4 Ways We’ll Build a Renewable Energy Future, Faster

Published May 10, 2023


Climate and Energy

... without so-called “permitting reform.” The truth is, the climate doesn’t care how many windmills we build if we keep burning fossil fuels.

... without so-called “permitting reform.” The truth is, the climate doesn’t care how many windmills we build if we keep burning fossil fuels.

We all know that renewable energy is key to avoiding the worst of climate catastrophe. But we don’t just need a rapid deployment of renewables. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made very clear, we also need to stop using fossil fuels. 

A group of lawmakers and lobbyists have taken advantage of this urgency and twisted it for their own aims. They’re working to erode bedrock environmental laws that will fast track fossil fuel projects. 

We can and must improve public participation in permitting and ensure we evaluate project impacts thoroughly. But much of the current proposed “permitting reform” would hasten or eliminate decision-making processes.

And, if passed, it would secure huge giveaways to the already-powerful fossil fuel industry. It will fast track more drilling, more carbon capture scams, more dirty energy, and more fossil fuel exports

That’s why we’re sending a policy brief with allies to President Biden and Congressional leaders. We need to make sure they know the truth behind so-called “permitting reform” and aren’t duped by the fossil fuel industry.

Moreover, this brief explains what Biden and Congress can do instead to drive a faster energy transition — without excluding communities or aiding polluters and their profits. Here are four major steps they can take now:

1. Boost ONLY Clean, Renewable Energy Projects

For more than 100 years, fossil fuels have enjoyed political support and billions in subsidies each year. This has given the industry a systemic advantage over renewable energy. 

Fossil fuel corporations are bigger than renewable companies, dominate federal and state regulatory processes, and have much more political influence and resources

As a result, any policy that claims to be “technology-neutral” or “all-of-the-above” is, in practice, pro-fossil fuel. It gives away benefits, like tax credits or faster permitting, to an industry that already has a 100-year head-start. 

The “permitting reform” pushed by Joe Manchin last year called on President Biden to identify projects of “strategic national importance,” including fossil fuel projects. But with the existential threat of climate catastrophe looming, we know that only renewables can be of “strategic national importance.” 

To that end, Biden must prioritize 50 clean energy projects, and clean energy only. It must also dedicate all the resources and staff needed to finish them. Additionally, the administration must focus especially on projects that benefit environmental justice communities and equitably distribute energy.

2. Support Resilient, Affordable, Real Climate Solutions

Right now, politicians are favoring big, flashy energy projects. But this is the least effective and most costly way to lower emissions. In fact, in many cases (like that of carbon capture) they will actually increase emissions

Flashy boondoggles like carbon capture distract from the smaller, local projects that have a huge collective impact. These projects are also less expensive and more resilient. And we know resilience will become even more important in the face of climate-fueled disasters. 

Specifically, we’re talking about technologies like solar power, batteries, and microgrids. They can meet our electricity demand, and we can deploy them through public programs. For example, federal and state governments can mandate solar panels on public buildings, parking lots, and right-of-ways.

At the same time, we can reduce the amount of energy we use in the first place. Energy efficiency with low-cost tech like insulation, heat pumps, and demand response tools will not only reduce climate pollution — it will save money for working families. 

And, we can further conserve energy by reining in industries like cryptocurrency that waste huge amounts of electricity with little benefit to everyday people.

3. Reform Federal Agencies and Provide the Resources They Need

Agencies like the Energy Department and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have a crucial role in this unprecedented energy transition. However, they need more support to fulfill that role. 

Congress can amend laws to ensure that these agencies’ primary mission is to phase out fossil fuels and usher in our clean energy future. This would empower agencies to stop reviewing and approving all fossil fuel projects (including climate scams like carbon capture and hydrogen).

Congress could also create a new master energy planning agency in charge of our energy transition. Right now, our permitting process is winding and confusing. A single agency would better coordinate federal, state, and local permitting and planning.

This agency could also sidestep the utilities that have so far sided with the fossil fuel industry. Utilities, which often own transmission grids, have delayed and blocked competing energy sources — like solar — from connecting to the grid. The result: a years-long backlog of clean energy projects just waiting to connect to regional grids. 

With clearer authority and more resources, new and reformed federal agencies can power our energy transition. They can overcome hurdles from dirty energy companies and utilities, and they can quickly advance the clean energy projects we need. 

4. Give Communities a Powerful Voice in the Process

Our core environmental laws are meant to protect people from harmful projects. Calling for the elimination of these laws, as many leaders currently are, is a red herring. 

Doing so would double down on the unjust harms that fossil fuel projects subject communities to. Instead, officials need to provide opportunities for communities, especially environmental justice communities, to have a say in new projects, especially early on in the process. Moreover, they need to incorporate environmental justice into all decisions.

This is how we get buy-in for essential projects — by treating communities as partners, not obstacles.

We can do both: protect and include vulnerable communities in decisions, and quickly transition to renewable energy. But that requires the political will to invest in public participation and government capacity, not fossil fuels.

We Must Demand a Just and Renewable Energy Future

We are at a pivotal moment in history. Future generations — who have the most to gain or lose from our actions today — will look back at this time.

Will they see leaders who chose the easy way? Who chose to defend fossil fuels — which is to say, pollution, sickness, chaos, and injustice? Or will they see leaders who responded to the moment with urgency and with justice? 

That’s why we’re joining allies to call on Biden and Congress to show real climate leadership. Our elected officials need to stop new fossil fuel projects and get fossil power out of our energy grids. They need to help us electrify everything and use our energy efficiently.

And they need to listen to the communities that have been excluded in the past, but must now be central in our vision, plans, and policies.

That’s how we create a bold, just, renewable energy future, for everyone.

Spread the word! This is how we rapidly transition to renewables WITHOUT boosting fossil fuels or excluding communities.

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