Responsibly Unleashing Renewable Energy: A Progressive Take on Permitting Reform

New Roosevelt Institute and Climate Community Project report details a progressive agenda for permitting reform, one that will allow us to move efficiently and equitably

August 22, 2023
Anthony Thomas
(202) 412-4270

New York, NY — The severity of the climate crisis is accelerating. This July was the hottest on record, and cities like New York and Washington, DC, are experiencing noxious air quality from wildfires hundreds of miles away. The need for an energy transition is far more tangible than ever. While the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) unleashed an unprecedented investment in renewable capacity, the question remains—can the US get new energy infrastructure online fast enough?

Permitting reform, variously defined, has become a catchall answer. Some climate advocates have argued that the renewable energy transition could be completed faster if there were less bureaucratic “red tape” involved in the environmental review process, while environmental justice advocates argue that the reviews mandated by key permitting laws are crucial, yet imperfect, safeguards against polluting infrastructure for communities.

A Progressive Take on Permitting Reform: Principles and Policies to Unleash a Faster, More Equitable Green Transition, a new Roosevelt Institute and Climate and Community Project report, argues that the goals of building renewables fast and protecting communities and the environment are not oppositional, but aligned. This report takes a deep dive into this debate, clarifying which roadblocks to the transition come from permitting processes and identifying the larger hurdles that extend beyond the scope of regulatory review. Authors Johanna Bozuwa, executive director of the Climate and Community Project and Dustin Mulvaney, professor in the environmental studies department at San José State University, outline a progressive approach to permitting reform and beyond. The report identifies 14 policy interventions that will improve coordination and planning, strengthen community engagement, and empower a just transition, all while helping the U.S. build renewable energy at the speed we desperately need. These policy interventions fall into three main strategies:

  • Enable More Coordination and Planning: For example, by utilizing long-range land use planning, increasing capacity of permitting agencies, and building public renewables.
  • Enhance Community Participation and Consent: For example, by moving community input early in the permitting process to make it more likely that projects will move forward faster, without as much community opposition and by making cumulative impact analysis a part of the process.
  • Empower a Just Transition: For example, by setting firm emissions reduction targets to phase out fossil fuels.

“The transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is about more than just switching out one energy type for another. It is also an opportunity to repair historic harms for pollution, marginalization, and exploitation wrought by the fossil-fueled system, and to build a far more just and equitable energy system for the future,” wrote Bozuwa and Mulvaney.