On June 1, 2023, Fred Wagner was quoted in S&P Global Market Intelligence regarding the infrastructure permitting measures in a bipartisan bill to raise the U.S. debt ceiling and its impact on the speed and efficiency of energy project reviews.
According to the article, lawmakers in Congress are rushing to pass legislation to raise the U.S. debt ceiling that also contains policies aimed at speeding the development of energy projects, including proposed updates to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Some industry lawyers and experts said the proposed updates to NEPA would bolster efforts to shorten review times and free some projects from the law's requirements amid updates to key definitions.
"I think it's a big deal in many ways, and I think a lot of the proof is going to be how it ends up being applied," said Wagner.
Some of the bill's permitting provisions, including having a lead agency coordinate project reviews, would codify principles and best practices already in place. But other aspects of the bill "are a little bit more aggressive," Wagner said. He highlighted the proposed NEPA review timelines and potential for related court petitions and the five-year guarantees on programmatic reviews as potentially impactful.
Wagner also said there is language in the bill that runs contrary to parts of the Biden administration's phase-one NEPA regulations, which required agencies to consider a broader range of alternatives to a proposed project rather than just the developer's stated goals.
"I disagree with people who say this [bill] is a yawn or not a big deal," Wagner said. "A lot of this is going to remain to be seen in terms of how the federal government applies it. But this is not a yawner. I think this is a pretty big day."
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