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Biden's climate chief: 'Delays and bottlenecks' slowing IRA spending

Speeding up the permitting process a top priority for the Biden administration, says John Podesta

John Podesta, the U.S. President Joe Biden's senior advisor for clean energy, delivers a speech during the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., March 6, 2023.  REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare
John Podesta, U.S. President Joe Biden's senior advisor for clean energy, delivers a speech during the CERAWeek energy conference in Houston, Texas, U.S., March 6, 2023. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare (Callaghan O'Hare / reuters)

U.S. President Joe Biden's top climate advisor says the United States needs to build electricity lines at double the current pace, blaming a sluggish permitting process for delaying vital arteries for the nation's clean energy transition.

"On average, interstate gas pipelines that require environmental impact statements are approved nearly twice as fast as transmission lines requiring the same," John Podesta told energy executives at the CERAWeek by S&P Global conference on Monday. "We don't have that time."

The US$369 billion Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is the cornerstone of the Biden administration's climate policy. The legislation includes tax credits for electric vehicles, home solar panels, more efficient appliances, as well as measures to support grid-scale batteries and wind turbines. As senior advisor to the president for clean energy innovation and implementation, Podesta is tasked with deploying those funds.

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"In just the battery industry alone, companies have announced over US$75 billion in investments for new and expanded domestic manufacturing since President Biden took office. US$28 billion of that has been in just the past six months," he said at the annual event in Houston, TX.

However, when it comes to building new electricity lines and other projects, he describes a permitting process "plagued by delays and bottlenecks."

"Plenty of delays happen at the state and local levels, and those need to be addressed. But there is plenty that we can do and must do federally," Podesta said, adding that he and U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm are tracking the pace of more than 20 key electricity transmission projects.

Podesta says the IRA includes funding to improve state and local permitting processes, but implementing the bill's 135 separate programs has been challenging.

"We can move faster by setting tight deadlines for agencies to complete environmental reviews. We can move smarter by making it easier to approve projects with low environmental impact," he said. "And we can move strategically by improving basic information sharing amongst agencies, and quality standards for project approvals. And by listening to local communities earlier in the process to keep the infrastructure project out of court."