Less than six months ago, a new conservative majority in the U.S. House of Representatives put an end to one-party Democratic rule in the nation’s capital.

After the left-wing legislative and regulatory onslaught that characterized the first two years of President Joe Biden’s term, the rise of Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the GOP Conference was a badly needed reprieve for center-right voters.

Frankly, if all the Republican House majority accomplished was stopping bad bills from becoming bad laws, that would have been enough. But the recent deal reached between McCarthy and Biden over the nation’s debt ceiling also included a massive win for conservative, rural communities — especially those in Western states.

The debt ceiling bill also includes major reforms to the federal permitting process for energy projects, which have been a major source of economic growth for farming and ranching communities in the American West.

This growth has been artificially constrained, however, due to a federal permitting process that has grown unwieldy and open to political manipulation by environmental activists and other opposition groups.

Transmission lines, mining projects, oil and natural gas pipelines and many other energy infrastructure projects have been tied up in knots because of the problematic federal permitting process. As a result, rural communities have been limited in the amount of energy and energy-related products they can make and sell to urban centers and overseas buyers.

But the Fiscal Responsibility Act will tip the scales back towards a balanced, functional permitting system that provides strong environmental protections without limiting the economic potential of rural America, and especially Western states, where the federal government is the biggest landowner. 

In particular, the Fiscal Responsibility Act brings some badly needed commonsense to permitting reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, which opposition groups have learned how to manipulate to their advantage.

Instead of using far-fetched hypotheticals to block or delay projects, federal permitting reviews must now be focused on “reasonably foreseeable environmental effects” and “a reasonable range of alternatives.”

Environmental impact statements will now have to be completed within two years, instead of being dragged out indefinitely. Not only that, there will be page limits on completed environmental impact statements, which will also help to keep regulators focused on the real issues at hand.

The Fiscal Responsibility Act also requires a single agency to lead the environmental review of a permit application, instead of having multiple arms of the federal government conducting duplicative and sometimes contradictory reviews.

This will help prevent the kind of bureaucratic battles that can add years to the federal permitting process. In one infamous case, a transmission line project that would connect wind farms in Wyoming with big cities in California was stuck in the permitting review process for 15 years, until it was finally approved in April.  

The permitting reforms in the Fiscal Responsibility Act have stayed mostly “under the radar” but they are still hugely important, Republican Utah Congressman Blake Moore said.

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The National Environmental Policy Act hasn’t been meaningfully reformed in 40 years, and the improvements that Republicans fought for and won will “greenlight more American energy and infrastructure projects without crippling restrictions and procedural hurdles,” Moore said

These projects will build stronger connections between the predominantly rural communities where energy is produced and the domestic and international markets where that energy is consumed.

Simply put, the more energy we can produce and sell, the more prosperous our communities will be — and the Fiscal Responsibility Act will help make that happen.   

Steve Handy is a former state legislator and the Utah director for The Western Way, an organization focused on market-competitive solutions to environmental and conservation challenges. He also served as a communications consultant for the recent Western States Hydrogen Hub application.  

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