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United States

United States

Permit delays cost US $1 trillion a year

UNITED STATES: Cumbersome regulatory processes are delaying hundreds of US energy projects and potentially costing the US economy more than $1 trillion every year, claims a study by business lobby group the US Chamber of Commerce.

The report, dubbed Project No Project, was published in March and identifies 351 stalled energy projects across the country, including 89 wind farms. The report paints a grim picture of endless permitting delays and strongly suggests that the US economy could see an annual $1.1 trillion boost along with up to 1.9 million new jobs if regulations were relaxed.

William Kovacs, senior vice-president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the Chamber of Commerce, insists that bureaucracy could be reduced without impinging on citizens' rights.

"Our solution has always been some form of project streamlining," says Kovacs. "And what that means to us, just so we're all clear, is that no one loses any rights. But the rights have to be asserted in a prompt timeframe."

The report was compiled by TeleNomic Research from publicly available information, including some purchased from the US Bureau of Economic Analysis.

In addition to 89 wind projects, the study looks at 262 other potential developments - including 21 transmission, 111 coal, 38 gas, 23 nuclear, 29 ethanol or biomass, ten solar, seven hydropower, four wave and one geothermal. Transmission projects crossing state lines are counted more than once. Oil projects are omitted.

While the chamber does not suggest all projects should be built, the report claims that clean-energy projects are hitting the same roadblocks as gas, oil, nuclear and coal projects.

The Chamber of Commerce, a powerful centre-right organisation representing three million businesses across the country, spends more money on lobbying in Washington DC than any other organisation, according to the non-partisan research group Center for Responsive Politics.

The chamber put its report into the hands of each member of US Congress, the country's legislative body, all 50 state governors and members of President Obama's cabinet, says Kovacs, who testified on the topic before the Committee on Science, Space and Technology in the House of Representatives last month.

Statistics disputed

Critics say the chamber's agenda includes commerce-at-any-cost politics aimed at taking away citizens' rights in the name of corporate greed and permitting speed.

"The chamber attempts to sell the whole report under this false idea that red tape is holding up renewable energy," said Matthew Garrington, deputy director of the Colorado-based Checks and Balances project. "You can pick apart one project but that doesn't actually provide a strong look at the overall trends of what's happening with renewable-energy production."

Garrington added that newly robust renewable-energy standards in California, Colorado and elsewhere assured years of wind development despite current regulatory processes. "If I was the wind industry, I'd be mad as hell," he said. "The chamber is using wind in order to promote coal and nuclear. It's totally crazy."

The report's critics say that many of the listed projects are stalled for complicated reasons beyond mere red tape.

Of the seven generation projects that made the chamber's Idaho list, the Idaho Statesman newspaper claimed that six stalled for reasons that had little to do with regulations. One wind farm was delayed largely because a fire destroyed surrounding wildlife habitat, while another stalled in search of a power-purchase agreement.

One coal plant was killed off by a right-of-centre Idaho governor and a conservative state legislature, while another was stopped when a utility decided that new coal-fired generation no longer best meets its needs. A hydroelectric project stalled because of competing interests between two companies. And a 1.6GW nuclear plant is in limbo pending an investigation into project financing by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Meanwhile, the seventh Idaho scheme identified by the chamber's study - the 450MW Goshen South wind farm - was completed last year.

"Seven out of seven," said Rocky Barker, the Statesman reporter who gathered the information for posting on the newspaper's website. "That seems pretty suspect."

Some opponents of the study are willing to revisit regulatory policy if it does not come at the expense of citizen input.

"But I don't want the goal to be for citizens to give up everything while project developers give up nothing," said Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen, a people's rights advocacy based in Washington DC.

"We'd be willing to have that discussion if it's in good faith. (But) they (the Chamber of Commerce) are waging a very aggressive campaign to demonise regulations on a number of different fronts. An analysis of their report shows that blaming regulations as the key variable is dishonest."

The study is available on the Chamber of Commerce website.

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