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In December 2022, a coalition of nine environmental justice and conservation organizations sent a letter to President Biden outlining a set of principles to accelerate the buildout of electricity transmission infrastructure. The groups argue that at least a doubling or tripling of current transmission buildout rates is needed to achieve the country's climate goals and deliver on the historic investments in renewable energy expansion made through the Inflation Reduction Act.
The detailed principles aim to address current systemic challenges related to transmission planning, siting, permitting, and cost allocation that have inhibited transmission growth. They recommend the federal government mandate inclusive, comprehensive regional and interregional planning processes that calculate all project benefits, proactively engage affected communities, and minimize local siting impacts. For project siting, they propose expanding FERC's authority to review and permit certain large, interregional transmission lines spanning multiple states while concurrently strengthening protections for communities, landowners, and Tribal nations relative to FERC's current approach under the Natural Gas Act. On cost allocation, they advocate for FERC methodologies that holistically account for all transmission benefits like improved reliability, resilience, operational flexibility, emissions reductions, and avoided environmental justice community impacts.
The groups strongly caution against recent proposals they view as lacking adequate stakeholder engagement and ignoring community concerns in the interest of accelerated project approval. They urge incorporating these principles alongside the major transmission investments enabled under the Inflation Reduction Act and Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to ensure equitable, accelerated buildout of infrastructure that serves—rather than harms—the communities it is meant to benefit.
The transmission principles letter is especially notable coming from organizations rooted in environmental justice advocacy. Most analysis on permitting reforms to date has come from academic institutions or policy groups. This letter centers community voices and lived experiences. It underscores the need for transmission infrastructure to both mitigate pollution burdens and provide direct local benefits to impacted areas through inclusive development processes.
Principles address systemic challenges around planning, siting, permitting, cost allocation
Advocate inclusive regional/interregional planning processes
Propose expanding FERC siting/permitting authority with added community protections
Recommend cost allocation methods accounting for all transmission benefits
Caution against proposals perceived as lacking adequate stakeholder input
Emphasize importance of community engagement and avoiding harm
Similar principles can be applied to local renewable energy permitting processes, which face comparable siting challenges. As states like California, New York, Michigan, and Massachusetts move to streamline permitting for renewables, they should be cautious not to neglect meaningful community input and equitable sharing of benefits. Intensive, collaborative development processes can build trust and ultimately accelerate an inclusive transition.
“Principles for Accelerating Clean Energy Deployment Through a Transmission Buildout in an Equitable Clean Energy Future.” 2022, December 15, 2022. https://www.weact.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/12/Transmission-Principles-Letter-121522.pdf.