Experts Call for Permitting Reform Legislation for BEAD Funding, Energy Effectiveness

Key solutions addressing permitting for clean energy projects include interagency coordination and hiring more people.

Experts Call for Permitting Reform Legislation for BEAD Funding, Energy Effectiveness
Photo of Quindi Franco of GAO, Lori Bird of World Resources Institute, Xan Fishman of Bipartisan Policy Center, Robert Glicksman of George Washington Law School

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2023 – Permitting reform legislation, which will lower costs and shorten the timeline for infrastructure projects in the United States, is essential to the effectiveness of federally funded builds, said panelists at Broadband Breakfast event Tuesday.

Quindi Franco, assistant director at the Government Accountability Office, highlighted key issues at the Made in America Summit to address permitting reforms, including coordination between federal agencies that have a hand in land management and broadband infrastructure.

Xan Fishman, director of Energy Policy and Carbon Management at Bipartisan Policy Center, added that agencies should consider an increased use of a memorandum of understanding to outline coordination efforts and organize which agency is responsible for what steps of the permitting process to make a more efficient process.

Panelists were discussing permitting reform for electricity and clean energy projects funded by investments made in the Inflation Reduction Act. The only way to achieve the White House’s goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 is to build clean energy plants now, agreed panelists.

These permitting obstacles are not exclusive to energy plants and are similarly experienced in the telecommunication industry.

The discussion took place a day after the White House announcement of funding allocations from the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program to states, and followed a panel of state broadband officials who said that permitting complications, especially those related to federal lands, remain an obstacle for completing broadband builds within the five-year timeline of the program.

Franco also highlighted the importance of implementing the right policies and procedures and hiring more people to handle the load, a suggestion also made by state broadband officials on Tuesday. Federal agencies do not have enough employees to operate permitting processes, he said, claiming that the deficiency must be addressed before permitting reform can be effective.

Not only is it critical to address federal permitting procedures, but it is also important to adjust state and local permitting issues, added Lori Bird, U.S. energy program director at the World Resources Institute. States need to take action to centralize permitting processes at the state level to streamline the process, she said.

To watch the full videos from the Made in America Summit, sign up for the Broadband Breakfast Club!

In May, the House Energy and Commerce Committee passed the American Broadband Deployment Act of 2023 which would preempt locality authority over the deployment of telecommunication infrastructure on local public property. It would put a 60-day time limit on local review procedures for broadband projects and adds that permitting applications would be deemed granted after that deadline if the locality has not denied the project.

The federal government should not preempt state and local permitting processes, argued Bird. We need local voices at the table to coordinate the best streamlined approach that will work for individual communities, she said.

Fishman suggested that Congress incentivize state permitting reform in place of preempting local authority.

Mayors and counties across the nation have added their opposition to federal preemption on their authority over the deployment of telecommunication infrastructure on local public property.

While cautious of federal legislation that would unilaterally affect the structure and timeline of permitting processes, the National Association of Counties said it would like to see a collaboration between states and counties to improve permitting processes, said Seamus Dowdall, association legislative director for telecommunications and Technology at NACo during a Fiber for Breakfast event Wednesday.

Clarification: This story has been updated to include reference to the different processes for energy projects impacted by the Inflation Reduction Act and the various processes for permitting reform impacting telecommunications and broadband projects.

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