American Opinion: Why is it so hard to build in America? Blame red tape

From the editorial: As a start, any such deal should scrap the idea of time limits; perversely, truncated reviews can actually lead to worse delays by encouraging more lawsuits. Instead, Congress should make it harder to tie up projects with dubious legal proceedings.

U.S. President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at an event celebrating the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2022.
(Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)
We are part of The Trust Project.

President Joe Biden says the Inflation Reduction Act, which contains some $370 billion in climate spending, represents the most sweeping government investment in clean energy “ever, ever, ever.” To ensure that investment is worthwhile, he’ll need an equally unprecedented overhaul of federal rules and regulations. Congress should make such reforms a top priority.

American Opinion
American Opinion
Tribune graphic / Forum News Service
More American Opinion:
The Justice Department should ask Cannon to recuse herself, and if she refuses, it should appeal for reassignment of the case.
From the editorial: The right to marry whom you love should not be subject to the whims of an out-of-step conservative court or be left to a patchwork of state regulations. Congress must make the Respect for Marriage Act the law of the land.
From American Opinion editorial: Enter the Anti-Robocall Litigation Task Force, a nationwide effort that’s being made to investigate and take legal action against companies who bring foreign robocalls into the United States. The coalition includes attorneys general from all 50 states.
From the American Opinioin editorial: Late in 2021, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland formally created a process to replace derogatory names of geographic features across the nation. She declared the word “squaw” to be derogatory and ordered a federal panel — called the Board on Geographic Names — to move forward with procedures to remove that word from federal usage.

Building anything in the U.S. requires navigating a rainforest of red tape. A primary impediment is the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federally funded projects to undergo a laborious environmental-review process. Mandated impact studies can run for hundreds of pages, cost millions of dollars and take years to complete. Faced with such costly busywork, many projects don’t get off the ground at all. Others endure seemingly endless legal challenges.

Green-energy projects have been no exception. Wind, hydropower, geothermal, solar, nuclear: However desirable such endeavors may be — even to the government itself — they’re no match for the sheer obstructive power of state and federal rulebooks. Permitting now takes nearly three years on average for renewables projects, while preparation time for impact statements rose by more than 50% between 2000 and 2018. The uncertainty inherent to this process imposes untold additional costs.

Without change, this system could well thwart Biden’s climate goals. By one estimate, the funding in the IRA and last year’s infrastructure bill should be enough to reduce U.S. emissions to 42% below 2005 levels, near the president’s goal of a 50% reduction by 2030. Yet green-energy companies argue — persuasively — that these objectives aren’t possible without permitting reform. As just one example: High-voltage transmission capacity will need to increase by about 60% by 2030. Under current rules, such a build-out could easily take twice that long.

Give credit to West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, then, for making permitting reform a priority. Last summer, as haggling over the IRA intensified, Manchin offered Democratic leaders a deal: He’d vote for their big spending splurge in exchange for a pledge to revisit the permitting issue down the road. The two sides agreed and Manchin duly offered his proposal as part of a continuing resolution in September.


Among other things, the plan would’ve imposed time limits on environmental assessments, established a list of projects of “strategic national importance” for priority review, and given the federal government more power over permitting transmission lines. (Not incidentally: It also would’ve speeded approval of a natural-gas pipeline that crosses through West Virginia.) After a showdown with Senate Republicans, the package quickly died.

Even so, both Biden and Republican leaders say a permitting-reform measure of some kind remains a priority. By fixing some of the flaws in Manchin’s proposal, they should be able to make a deal.

More Opinion:
From the editorial: (Business) know that society has become more inclusive and tolerant in recent years. That’s what puts such a bitter taste in Tucker Carlson’s mouth.
Editorial cartoonist Gary McCoy draws on Ground Hog Day, Feb. 2, 2023.
From the commentary: In another America where laws were once supposed to be equally enforced (the exception being the rule) and truth was not personal, this would likely not have been a problem.
"Life is short, ends in a moment, and we don’t think much about it some days. ... It’s a scenic highway, and we should keep it that way, go a bit slower, and enjoy life."
From the commentary: (The judge) said he’d alert everyone when his ruling was coming. ... And that he would give everyone a chance to respond before he released the report, if (it was to be) released.
From the editorial: No law can stop every crime, as California’s mass shooting tragically confirms. But the data consistently shows that sane gun restrictions make society safer overall.
Editorial cartoonist Adam Zyblis draws on the Newport News shooting of a teacher by a six-year-old in January.
From the commentary: It's clear that whatever else happens, sets should be safer as a result of what Baldwin did.
From the commentary: By passing bipartisan laws and enforcing strong ethics, our elected leaders can once again demonstrate that they are working for the people and promoting the common good.
An editorial cartoon by Dave Granlund.

As a start, any such deal should scrap the idea of time limits; perversely, truncated reviews can actually lead to worse delays by encouraging more lawsuits. Instead, Congress should make it harder to tie up projects with dubious legal proceedings. In particular, it should shorten the statute of limitations for such suits, enhance the requirements for standing in litigation, and limit the ability of courts to issue injunctions on projects that have already undergone significant environmental review.

Next, a clean-energy economy will be heavily reliant on expanding transmission capacity. Yet new power lines are all too easily obstructed by parochial state and local interests. The best bet is for Congress to pass some version of the SITE Act, which would empower a single federal regulator to oversee big interstate transmission projects in the national interest.

Across federal agencies, finally, new efforts are needed to maximize exemptions, speed reviews and otherwise prioritize clean-energy projects, an undertaking that above all demands leadership. Elected officials are quick to call climate change an “existential threat.” They should show a little more urgency.

This American Opinion editorial is the view of the Bloomberg Opinion Editorial Board. Send feedback to:

©2022 Bloomberg L.P. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


This story was written by one of our partner news agencies. Forum Communications Company uses content from agencies such as Reuters, Kaiser Health News, Tribune News Service and others to provide a wider range of news to our readers. Learn more about the news services FCC uses here.

What To Read Next
From the editorial: If McCarthy and other House leaders aren’t willing to endorse an increase, Biden must appeal to responsible Republicans in the House.
From the editorial: "There’s a lack of political checks and balances in Minnesota right now that’s far from ideal."
From the editorial: The rules are the rules. It shouldn’t be too much to expect the country’s highest leaders to start following them.
From the editorial: The days of magnanimity and bipartisan compromise are over. Some people want war and seem determined to provoke it.