Chamber of Commerce Report Finds Hundreds of Energy Projects in Regulatory Limbo

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The Chamber of Commerce released a report Thursday that found 351 energy projects around the country were in regulatory limbo last year because of regulations, environmental protests, or lawsuits.

None of them include drilling for oil or gas and remarkably, almost half of the delayed projects involved renewable energy.

"There are hundreds of laws with thousands of provisions, all of which can stop a project," said William Kovacs of the Chamber’s Environment, Technology & Regulatory Affairs Division.

Steve Pociask of TeleNomic Research, one of the authors of the study, found those delays are costing the economy dearly. The report says the stalled projects cost the economy $1.1 trillion in economic activity last year and would have provided 1.9 million jobs in each year of construction.

The report said that once constructed, the projects would have supplied some 791,000 jobs per year over 20 years and added $3.4 trillion to the GDP, and that’s without taking into account lower energy prices that could result from the completed projects.

Kovacs said the purpose of the report is to urge a more rational permitting process, such as a 180 day statute of limitation for protests similar to the process used in federal determinations on highway projects.

The new report is a snapshot of 2010 and some of the projects studied eventually got permits. But Kovacs said every new group of projects encounters the same problems, though he emphasized that the report makes no judgment about the desirability of each project.

"What we're saying is you have to bring some common sense to the process,” Kovacs said. “There is no reason to allow a six year statute of limitations where no one has to do anything ... and then on the last day of the sixth year, they can file a lawsuit."

A partial list from the report shows the stalled or delayed proposals included 22 nuclear projects, 1 nuclear disposal site, 21 transmission projects, 38 gas and platform projects and 111 coal projects.

The Nuclear Information and Resource Service, an anti-nuclear energy group, believes there are valid reasons for a slower permitting process, saying one project mentioned in the report would be foreign built and owned.

“We find it ironic that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would go to bat for a French government project where all the profits (in the unlikely event there were any) would go immediately to France, rather than any U.S. companies, or, for that matter, members of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” the group’s executive director Michael Marriotte said in a statement. “It appears that in its zeal to promote dirty, dangerous, and extraordinarily expensive nuclear reactors the Chamber has lost sight of who it represents.”

The Chamber’s report adds that renewable energy isn’t exempt from the slowdowns either. Included are 140 renewable energy projects, notably 89 wind, four wave, 10 solar, seven hydropower, 29 ethanol/biomass and one geothermal project.

In fact, Pociask, the study’s author, said that of the projects studied, 45 percent were renewable energy projects.

“We would think that if we want cleaner energy, the process should be working for it,” Pociask said. “What we demonstrate in the study is that it is broken for everyone."

"We're going to have to look at some ways of streamlining the permitting process, or bringing some certainty into the process, coming up with some realistic time periods for review," he added. "Not all these projects should be approved, but what we need to have is a fair review process. And the current process... is broken."

"We are not talking about taking away anyone's rights or changing the substance of any laws," Kovacs insisted.

Instead he says the Chamber is talking about trying to get the permitting process "handled in a short period of time so the good projects can make a presentation and move into the marketplace, and the bad projects are killed and the money moves somewhere else."