Last year permitting reform emerged as one of the most divisive climate policy debates in the United States. During my own reporting on geothermal energy, an underutilized source of renewable power, industry representatives insisted that the onerous permitting process is the single biggest challenge to expanding geothermal development. A joint industry and Energy Department report on geothermal energy estimated that streamlining the permitting process could more than double the amount of installed geothermal electricity generation by 2050, compared to “business as usual” scenarios.
Permitting-reform advocates say that kind of positive effect holds true for renewable power in general, and that cutting through the bureaucratic red tape around energy and transmission projects is essential to reaching the Biden administration’s goal of permitting 25 gigawatts or more of wind, solar, and other renewable energy projects on federal land by 2025. But many fear that permitting reform will undermine environmental laws that were enacted to protect the country’s natural and cultural resources and reduce needed regulation of fossil fuel projects. Is permitting reform worth the risk to meet the country’s ambitious climate goals, or can other solutions hasten renewable energy development but leave the country’s bedrock environmental laws intact?
To explore nuances in the permit-reform debate, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists solicited commentaries from six experts: Andrew Dessler, director of the Texas Center for Climate Studies at Texas A&M University; Sanjay Patnaik, director of the Center on Regulation and Markets at the Brookings Institution and Rayan Sud, a research assistant with the Center on Regulation and Markets at Brookings; Jessica Lovering, co-founder and executive director of the Good Energy Collective, a nuclear policy research organization; Jamie Pleune, a research fellow with the Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources, and the Environment at the University of Utah; and Dustin Mulvaney, an environmental studies professor at San José State University.
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