American families face an invisible “permitting tax,” which hits struggling households hardest. Consumers pay this levy in the form of higher electricity and gas prices, which arise from the bureaucratic delays that tie up energy-infrastructure projects. A streamlined approval process would unlock investment in reliable and affordable energy projects and ease the burden on Americans’ wallets.

The laborious permitting process deters investors and developers from starting projects and constrains their budgets. Just to complete the required environmental-impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) takes an average of 4.8 years. For essential electric-transmission projects, the average jumps to 6.5 years. Some projects sit a full decade before final approval, adding needless uncertainty for investors who allocated significant capital to these ventures. The advocacy group Clean Power for America estimates that permitting hurdles jeopardize 100 gigawatts of clean-energy initiatives this decade, potentially thwarting $100 billion in domestic investment and 150,000 American jobs.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline exemplifies the extensive litigation obstacles confronting natural-gas-infrastructure projects. The 303-mile pipeline from West Virginia to Virginia underwent an extensive regulatory-review process, received Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval in 2017, and began construction in 2018—but then litigation derailed its progress for years. It ultimately took a second legislative intervention (the passage of the June 2023 debt-ceiling bill), which deemed the MVP’s completion in the national interest and restricted judicial review, to enable construction to resume in July 2023. A project that had long since won regulatory approval still needed an act of Congress to overcome permitting hurdles and litigation-caused delays.

Two major changes would streamline the energy-project-permitting process—one legislative, the other judicial. First, Congress should pass Senator Joe Manchin’s Building American Energy Security Act of 2023. The legislation sets two-year timelines for major project reviews and one-year limits for lower-impact ones. It empowers project sponsors to seek court orders if agencies miss deadlines. It requires a single coordinated environmental review, limits excessive litigation delays, and prioritizes efforts of national strategic importance. The Building American Energy Security Act represents the sensible solution needed to speed key plans, while upholding environmental protection.

Second, the Supreme Court should significantly limit or overturn the Chevron doctrine. The Court’s 1984 holding in Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. required courts to defer to relevant federal agencies in their interpretations of ambiguous statutes. The doctrine encourages agency overreach and lets officials block projects by exploiting statutory ambiguity. This creates significant uncertainty and compliance costs for energy-infrastructure developers, who must navigate layers of regulation subject to differing agency whims. The pending Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo case offers the Court an opportunity to reconsider Chevron and restore the proper balance of power.

To build critical domestic energy infrastructure and maintain reliability for American consumers, firms need permitting processes with transparent guidelines across all energy sectors. Enacting the Building American Energy Security Act of 2023 and overturning the Chevron doctrine would help modernize America’s outdated permitting process, uphold environmental standards, and reclaim our global leadership in energy innovation.

Photo: Kings Access/iStock


City Journal is a publication of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research (MI), a leading free-market think tank. Are you interested in supporting the magazine? As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, donations in support of MI and City Journal are fully tax-deductible as provided by law (EIN #13-2912529).

Further Reading

Up Next