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Original Authors: Xan Fishman, John Jacobs, Owen Minott, Meron Tesfaye, and Andy Winkler
The Bipartisan Policy Center report explores options for reforming public engagement and increasing efficiency in the clean energy infrastructure permitting process. The report summarizes key takeaways from an April 2023 private workshop that brought together experts to discuss specific policy proposals. The goal was to identify areas of bipartisan interest rather than develop consensus recommendations. There was agreement that community engagement reforms are essential for any politically viable legislative permitting package.
The policy options discussed include:
Establishing neutral third parties to educate communities on energy technologies, not specific projects. This could build trust and reduce project delays.
Creating local project monitoring committees of stakeholders to ensure standards are met. This provides ongoing public engagement but raises resource concerns
Requiring/incentivizing agencies to engage stakeholders before the EIS notice. Early input helps projects but could also spur litigation.
Providing resources for extensive community hearings to address concerns. Participants differed on the importance of hearings.
Creating a web clearinghouse on best practices for environmental justice and engagement. Some worried this could create litigation risks.
Establishing commissions to advise agencies on public participation. Participants disapproved, citing redundancy.
There was significant interest in third-party engagement and monitoring committees, though program design specifics were debated. Requiring/incentivizing early stakeholder engagement also received support. Overall, the report shows bipartisan agreement on the value of early, trusted community engagement to reduce permitting delays.
The BPC report provides helpful insights on using interviews and focus groups to understand local perspectives on renewable energy projects. The policy options reinforce the need for meaningful public participation, not just streamlined permitting. Providing resources and opportunities for communities to engage third parties they trust could facilitate the collection of local viewpoints. For example, scoping interviews with community leaders could identify trusted entities to help design and facilitate focus groups and role-playing workshops. Focus groups themselves, if structured appropriately with neutral facilitation, may serve as monitoring committees where diverse local stakeholders can voice concerns and ideas freely. Compensating focus group participants also creates more inclusive engagement. While permitting reform generally focuses on the policy process for approving large infrastructure projects at the state or federal level, insights on best practices for participation and representation have implications for grassroots participatory research as well.
Fishman, Xan, John Jacobs, Owen Minott, Meron Tesfaye, and Andy Winkler. 2023. “Empowering Communities While Streamlining Clean Infrastructure Permitting.” Bipartisan Policy Center (blog). May 9, 2023. https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/clean-infrastructure-permitting/.