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Manchin’s Permitting Reform Fails. That May Not Be a Win for Climate.

Posted on 12 December 2022 by greenman3610

This is a re-post from Climate Denial Crock of the Week

A little story.
15 years ago I was just getting started presenting around Michigan on the climate emergency and solutions. Meanwhile, there were no fewer than 9 brand new coal power plants proposed across the state, 2 of them within 20 miles of my house.

Somehow I got the ear of the state’s largest utility, Consumers Energy, which was proposing a new coal plant just down the road in Bay City. To their credit, they invited me to give a presentation on climate at their headquarters in Jackson.
Not long after, I was invited to lunch by a high ranking executive in the company, let’s call him George. Perhaps he was concerned, based on some family history, that I might be a major thorn in their project.

I told him I wasn’t interested in opposing the project, first of all because I didn’t want to do that to my family, but mostly because I didn’t think it was necessary.
I explained that in my reading, they had missed their window of opportunity. In the early 2000s, the price of natural gas was very high, and coal looked pretty good, (just economically, if you discounted climate). By this time, 2008 or 9, fracking was driving down the price of gas, and it was clear that renewables were coming, and they were going to be very competitive.
So I said, in essence, have at it bro – I’m quite sure if you build this thing you’ll be looking at a stranded asset in 15 years or so.

A few months later, the project was cancelled. The other 8 coal project also died, simply due to the weight of bad economics.
In recent years, both of Michigan’s largest utilities have pivoted pretty dramatically toward renewables.

A couple years ago, must have been before Covid, I was at an energy wonk schmoozefest in Lansing, eating some finger food and bumping into influentials in the industry. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, and it was a former PR person for Consumers, who had been instrumental in setting up the lunch, years before, with George.
He said, in short, “Everything you told us 10 years ago turned out to be right. And after that lunch you had with George, everything changed.”

Point is, you don’t necessarily make good stuff happen by blocking traffic and being wildly indignant about injustice.
Sometimes you have to let people kind of come around to the right decision on their own, instead of backing them into a corner.

Extremely important thread from my Yale Climate Connections colleague Dana Nuccitelli.

Dana Nuccitelli on Twitter:

Why I think it’s a big mistake for progressives and environmental justice advocates to kill a permitting reform deal in the current lame duck session of Congress. Permitting reform is crucially important for both the climate and frontline communities

Everyone agrees we need to speed up the rate at which we build electricity transmission. Otherwise we can’t connect new wind & solar to the grid fast enough, and as @JesseJenkins‘ team found, we would squander 80% of the Inflation Reduction Act’s potential emissions cuts.

The IRA would also increase electricity demand in 2030 by incentivizing EVs, electric heat pumps, induction stoves, etc. If we don’t speed up our clean energy infrastructure build-out, @JesseJenkins‘ team found that demand will be met by burning more fossil fuels.

That means more air pollution in frontline communities located near coal power plants. Analyses found that the IRA would save up to 180k lives by phasing out fossil fuel air pollution. Slow clean energy deployment would mean thousands more deaths in frontline communities [4/10] 

The concern is that Manchin’s deal also makes it easier to build fossil fuel infrastructure. A little bit, but they *already* have the advantage. It’s easier to build fossil gas pipelines and drill for oil than to build electric transmission lines and drill for geothermal.

Permitting reform would level that playing field. And demand for clean energy is exploding as experts project demand for fossil fuels is peaking. 93% of electricity projects waiting in the queue in the US are wind & solar. Clean energy would benefit.

The proposed reforms also wouldn’t undermine NEPA or other environmental laws. They would just make some changes to speed up the process. That would give communities less time to weigh in, but they would still have the opportunity to be involved and make their voices heard [7/10] 

Opponents have said there are better ways to speed up the process, like the Environmental Justice For All Act. But with Republicans about to take the House and nowhere near 60 supporters in the Senate, that bill has precisely zero chance of being passed [8/10] 

In fact, any permitting reform deal will only get *more fossil fuel friendly* in 2023 than what could potentially pass this month. Opposing the current deal is counter-productive because any future deal will only add more provisions that justice advocates dislike [9/10] 

There is no better time than the present to pass a permitting reform deal that will help unlock the IRA’s potential climate pollution reductions and save lives in frontline communities living near dirty fossil fuel pollution sources. Blowing this opportunity is a mistake [10/10] 

Case in point: the critical FERC transmission authority expansions are already being weakened because Republicans don’t like them. They’ll only be further watered down when Republicans control the House.


Points to be underlined:

Vast majority of projects in the queue are renewables. They have a significant cost advantage over fossil. Awareness of climate change is at an all time high, and will only get higher. (the results of the election show that young people are pissed about this)

The (yes, imperfect) Inflation Reduction Act has been an acknowledged game changer for clean energy internationally, and has potential to reset the table in a historic way.

The War in Ukraine is adding rocket fuel to the mix.
Anyone who seriously wants to put money into fossil projects today is taking a very serious risk – so I don’t necessarily believe that the projects they say they are going to build are actually going to be built.

The real crisis is overcoming local opposition to siting and transmitting clean energy – it won’t matter how many fossil projects are stopped if we don’t build the infrastructure to replace fossil powered systems.

We need this “just say no” energy to show up at local cities, counties, and township meetings to, emphatically, just say yes, to clean energy projects and to clarify what direction the country is going.
The smart money will likely follow, more quickly than most people think.

Anyway, that’s what I thought this morning. Be assured that the GOP congress will resurrect this reform package, but maybe in not nearly so favorable form as what we might have gotten.

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