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Op-ed | Regulatory updates could boost renewable energy in Tennessee, nationwide

February 13, 2020

Michael Stumo is CEO of the Coalition for a Prosperous America.

America’s manufacturers are using more metals and minerals than ever, but the permit process to launch new mines has stretched to at least seven years.

[Michael Stumo | February 12, 2020 | Tennessean]

According to federal data, Tennessee enjoys some of the most affordable electricity in the nation. And much of it comes from nuclear and coal generation.

In 2018, nuclear power provided  45%of state electricity, with coal delivering another 26%. When it comes to renewable energy, though, Tennessee lags behind other states. Although hydroelectric power provided  12% of the state’s electricity in 2018, solar and wind contributed well less than 1%.

Obstacles to address

For those hoping to see more renewable energy added to Tennessee’s power grid, some roadblocks must be addressed. While the private sector has made progress—with Google building a 150-megawatt solar farm in Tennessee—the state is still challenged by bureaucratic obstacles. As just one example, new wind projects often require clearances from a host of local, state, and federal agencies. Gaining approvals from these various agencies can sometimes take years.

Equally challenging is the effort to obtain crucial metals and minerals needed for renewable energy technologies. Wind turbines and solar panels, as well as lithium-ion batteries and electric vehicles, all require key minerals like lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, molybdenum, iron, neodymium and copper.

It’s not just the energy sector that’s being hampered by resource limitations, however. Roadways, pipelines, transmission towers and bridges also require copious amounts of metals. This is something Tennessee must grapple with, now that it’s embarking on a $2.1 billion infrastructure plan involving 139 individual projects over the next three years.

America’s manufacturers are using more metals and minerals than ever. But they face a serious bottleneck at home. The process of obtaining permits to launch new mines for these important resources has now stretched to at least seven years. As a result, U.S. manufacturers are becoming increasingly reliant on imported metals and minerals. This shouldn’t be happening.

Both Canada and Australia have found ways to review new mining operations in just two to three years—even though they follow similarly strict environmental standards.

This is particularly disheartening when one considers that the United States is home to an estimated $6.2 trillion in mineral reserves. But America’s outdated mine permitting system is blocking access to them.

A more efficient process

What’s needed is a more efficient regulatory approval process—something the Trump administration is now addressing with proposed updates to the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. 

NEPA has been in place for 50 years. Over time, it has grown into a cumbersome regulatory juggernaut that often delays much-needed projects. As just one example, NEPA regulations frequently result in a seven-year waiting time for new federal highways. In comparison, both Germany and Canada grant approvals for major infrastructure projects in two years or less, including environmental reviews. The administration is hoping to emulate such a streamlined review process. 

If the United States is to undertake new energy and infrastructure projects, Washington must find ways to reduce outdated and duplicative regulatory processes while still protecting communities and the environment. Streamlining NEPA’s sprawling approach could help states like Tennessee move ahead at a pivotal time for domestic industry and advanced technologies. And that could provide a win-win for America’s workers and manufacturers.

Read the original article here. 


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