Pennsylvania’s central location long ago earned it the nickname “The Keystone State,” but it turns out our state is arguably America’s most critical nexus for energy production. With the nation’s largest natural gas reserves, a product of the massive Marcellus Shale formation with its estimated 410.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, Pennsylvania has become our country’s second-largest natural gas producer and the third-largest producer of electricity.
The energy we produce here matters, supplying families and businesses with energy in northeastern states such as Delaware, New Jersey, and West Virginia.
Our state also ranks fifth highest in the number of adults 65 and older, with one estimate projecting that soon one in five Pennsylvania residents will be 65 or older. Many in this age group live on fixed incomes, meaning they are vulnerable to high energy prices. It doesn’t have to be this way. Pennsylvania has the capacity to produce more energy – both renewables and fossil fuels – to help bring down energy prices, but a string of clumsy and outdated regulations stands in the way.
To take advantage of our energy opportunities, Pennsylvania badly needs permitting reform at the federal level, which is why U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin’s recent proposal to cut and streamline federal red tape is so timely.
Measures in the bill, many of which are aimed at the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), would help get energy infrastructure projects online faster, pumping homegrown energy into markets nationwide and helping lower prices for seniors and all consumers.
Congress should make adopting this bill, called the Building American Energy Security Act of 2023, a top priority.
Although NEPA was created in the 1970s with the good intention of safeguarding our environment, it has since turned into a major roadblock for critical American energy projects. Excessive regulations prevent states like Pennsylvania from fully contributing to our domestic energy supply, with the Constitution Pipeline serving as a perfect example.
Approved in 2014, the project was scheduled to be operational by 2015, but was derailed by a slew of regulatory setbacks and activist opposition. New York denied the project’s water permit in 2016 and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to grant an appeal, causing the project’s builder to officially cancel the pipeline in 2020.
Pipelines aren’t the projects being stalled. Renewable projects are also seeing serious delays because of NEPA, including the Rock Run Recreation Area wind farm that should have been under construction long ago, but has been held back by lengthy approval processes and reviews.
A problem nationwide, Pennsylvania alone has an estimated 443 solar projects awaiting approval, projects that could power 1.4 million homes. This includes the Swiftwater Solar farm in Monroe County, what could be the state’s largest solar farm, potentially generating enough power to serve 14,000 homes if not for NEPA rules allowing Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future and the Brodhead Watershed Association to bury it in red tape. The Brookfield Solar Energy Center has met a similar fate, with activists weaponizing regulations to delay it.
The bottom line? The permitting approval process now in place under outdated NEPA regulations holds back Pennsylvania and other energy-rich areas from increasing America’s energy supply. Not only are ongoing projects delayed and discouraged, but potential developers hesitate to invest in projects when they see the complications others experience from burdensome federal regulations. This holds back job growth and pumps the brakes on an energy sector that is a major driver for Pennsylvania’s economy.
This threat should worry all policy makers. According to an analysis by PricewaterhouseCoopers, natural gas and oil supported over 423,000 Pennsylvania jobs. Jeopardizing a fossil fuel sector that in 2021 contributed more than $75 billion to the state’s economy is troubling enough, but permitting problems also holds back all types of energy projects. Permitting reform like the kind being pushed by Sen. Manchin (D-W.Va.) will help Pennsylvania’s oil and gas sector and will also boost the state’s ambitious plan to transition from fossil fuels in the future.
With the Pennsylvania Environmental Protection Department’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent by 2025 and 80 percent by 2050, we’ll need all the energy infrastructure we can get to succeed.
Getting more energy to market by reforming federal permitting processes will not only offer much-needed relief for senior citizens, but will provide the kind of energy security that America deserves and that our allies sorely need. Hopefully our lawmakers in Washington will follow Sen. Manchin’s lead and take the steps necessary to unleash America’s energy potential.