Powering Strong Communities

House Debt Limit Agreement Bill Includes Energy Permitting Reforms

A two-year budget deal released by House Republican leadership over the weekend that would lift the U.S. debt limit through 2024 includes energy permitting reforms.

The House is expected to take up the legislation on Wednesday, while the Senate is expected to  act later this week or over the weekend.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act includes the text of the BUILDER Act of 2023, which is sponsored by Congressman Garrett Graves (R-LA) and was included in the broader House-passed energy permitting reform bill, the Lower Energy Costs Act (H.R. 1).

APPA was generally supportive of the provisions in the BUILDER Act to modernize the National Environmental Policy Act.

The BUILDER Act section includes statutory reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act, including project threshold, interagency coordination and review deadlines to prevent project delay, limits on what qualifies as a major federal action, and limits to prevent agencies from missing statutory deadlines. These statutory changes are considered the first significant reforms to NEPA since 1982.

The  language would amend NEPA to clarify and narrow agency considerations to “reasonably foreseeable environmental impacts of the proposed agency action,” “reasonably foreseeable adverse environmental effects,” and “a reasonable range of alternatives to the proposed action that are technically and economically feasible and meet the purpose and need of the proposed action.”

The legislation would also codify key elements of the One Federal Decision Framework, including development by the lead agency of a joint schedule, procedures to elevate delays or disputes, and, to the extent practicable, preparation of a single environmental document. The legislation also sets reasonable page limits for environmental documents and reasonable time limits of one year for environmental assessments and 2 years for environmental impact statements. The bill provides a right of action to project applicants if statutory deadlines are not met.

With respect to NEPA thresholds and streamlining, the legislation includes threshold considerations for agencies assessing whether NEPA applies to a proposed activity. The bill also includes provisions facilitating agencies adopting categorical exclusions of other agencies through a streamlined process.

Also, a project sponsor would be allowed to assist agencies in conducting environmental reviews to help speed up the process and to resolve issues without taking control or authority away from the lead agency.

The legislation also:

  • Amends NEPA and clarifies that a major federal action is limited to those which are “subject to Federal control and responsibility.” It establishes a threshold consideration that is independent of the significance of impacts that may follow. It includes examples of actions that are not “major Federal actions”;
  • Includes provisions requiring agencies to use reliable existing data sources and clarifies NEPA does not require undertaking new scientific and technical research to inform analyses; and
  • Directs the Council on Environmental Quality to conduct a study on applying modern digital technologies to provide efficiencies in the permitting process; requiring the consideration of a government-wide permitting portal to streamline communications and data sharing between agencies and applicants.

Another section of the legislation would authorize the North American Electric Reliability Corporation to carry out, in consultation with regional operators, a study to examine total current transfer capabilities and provide recommendations to strengthen reliability and meet and maintain transfer capability between neighboring transmission regions.

The legislation also adds energy storage to this list of covered projects eligible for streamlining under the FAST Act and expedites the completion of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.