Powering Strong Communities

Permitting Reform

Public Power's Position

Federal permitting and siting rules must be streamlined to help facilitate the construction of cost-effective energy infrastructure necessary to maintain electric reliability and to accommodate a changing resource mix.

  • APPA supports conducting environmental reviews and permitting processes in a concurrent, coordinated, consistent, predictable, and timely manner sufficient to support sound decisions regarding federal agency actions, such as approving new infrastructure projects.
  • The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should promote electric transmission siting and permitting by facilitating open and transparent transmission planning processes that prioritize reliably meeting the needs of public power utilities and other load-serving entities.

About the Issue

Providing reliable and affordable electricity to American consumers requires an expansive infrastructure system, and the capital to plan, build, and maintain it. America’s energy infrastructure includes power plants, hydroelectric dams, transmission and distribution wires, and fuel delivery systems, such as interstate natural gas pipelines. The need for cost-effective infrastructure to support reliable and affordable electricity is particularly acute today to balance intermittent resources. Rapid growth in wind, solar, storage, and distributed energy resources, and the need for flexible resources, such as natural gas-fueled generation, are all part of that quickly evolving generation resource mix. Electrification of the transportation sector and increased severe weather events are also driving more demands on the electric grid.

Streamlined environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are integral in ensuring that energy infrastructure projects move forward. Environmental reviews and authorizations that involve multiple federal, state, and local agencies are common. These reviews are often time-consuming, fragmented, inefficient, and costly to project  proponents. While state and local governments generally have authority over the siting and construction of electric power lines, federal policymakers can influence transmission, planning, permitting, and siting. In some cases, transmission siting authority requires NEPA review.

Hydroelectric power generation facilities also face significant permitting obstacles. The current federal licensing process for hydroelectric projects constitutes a significant impediment to developing new hydroelectric facilities and relicensing existing facilities. FERC has primary authority for licensing and relicensing non-federal hydroelectric projects, and must be given more authority to weigh costs and benefits and to impose timelines for resource agencies to weigh in. 

Natural gas-fired electric generation is critical to the overall reliability of the bulk electric system as the resource mix transitions to more intermittent renewable energy. A reliable and affordable supply of natural gas depends on adequate interstate transportation infrastructure. Jurisdiction for siting and permitting interstate natural gas pipeline facilities resides primarily with FERC under the Natural Gas Act, and pipeline certificate applications are also subject to NEPA review. While FERC’s review of pipeline certificate applications has long resulted in needed infrastructure being evaluated and approved in a reasonably efficient manner, recent policy changes proposed by FERC have injected significant uncertainty into the process.

A clear definition of what constitutes “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) under the Clean Water Act also facilitates streamlined permitting for energy infrastructure projects. Utilities use various water features to manage, store, and treat water. Any change in converting these industrial water features from non-jurisdictional to jurisdictional will alter the point of compliance and create compliance issues, impose unwarranted new costs to public power utilities, and permit delays.

Also under the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers can issue general permits to authorize activities with minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects. The power sector relies on these nationwide permits to provide timely and reliable installation and maintenance of transmission and distribution power lines.