Climate Change

Biden's Green Agenda Meets Environmental Red Tape

A clean-energy future will require more than just spending money.

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President Joe Biden's new $6 trillion budget proposal calls for massive spending increases to advance his climate and infrastructure plans, which include everything from upgrading the nation's electric grid and building new transmission lines to investing in electric vehicles and other clean-energy technologies. But spending money is one thing. To deliver on its green pledges, the Biden administration will have to do something its environmental supporters are often reluctant to do: Cut the red tape that delays or derails the very development projects needed to build a clean-energy future. It will also have to make tough environmental tradeoffs that sometimes come along with such projects. 

One test is unfolding in Nevada in a fight over a planned lithium mine and a rare desert wildflower. A mining company, ioneer Ltd., has proposed building a large-scale lithium-boron mine in western Nevada (the first of its kind in the United States) to supply materials for electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines, and other clean-energy technologies. If approved, the mine could quadruple domestic lithium production and help build 400,000 electric cars each year, according to the company's estimates, helping to advance Biden's goal "to win the EV market."

But a rare plant may stop the project from breaking ground. The site is also home to Tiehm's buckwheat, a pale yellow wildflower that is only found on a 10-acre patch of lithium-rich soil within the project area. Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity, a litigious environmental group, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demanding emergency protections for the buckwheat to block the mine. On Thursday, in response to a court order, the service proposed listing the buckwheat under the Endangered Species Act. The Biden administration now has until September 30 to issue a proposed rule to protect the plant, which could all but doom the lithium mine. 

It's a familiar story: A tangled web of environmental laws and regulations gives litigious groups ample opportunities to stall development projects or thwart them altogether. That strategy works well when environmentalists' goal is to stop things from happening, but it's likely to be a major obstacle to building the infrastructure and technological capacity to achieve Biden's clean-energy vision, which will require many new mining operations, solar and wind farms, transmission lines, and other forms of development.

Another proposed lithium mine in northern Nevada now faces two lawsuits seeking to block the project. Several large-scale solar and wind projects in Washington, Nevada, Indiana, and Virginia are being opposed by local residents and environmental activists, including the Sierra Club. Meanwhile, dozens of shovel-ready transmission projects across the country remain tied up in permitting battles and environmental reviews, some for more than a decade. It now takes four and a half years on average to complete environmental impact statements for such projects—not to mention delays from any resulting legal challenges—meaning Biden could be out of office before any new ones get underway.

In March, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced $30 million in grants for research to "ensure American businesses can reliably tap into a domestic supply of critical elements and minerals, such as lithium, cobalt and nickel, needed to produce clean energy technologies." But if mining projects get blocked by environmental regulations, no amount of government support will matter.

Biden's climate goals will instead require finding ways to say yes to projects, often large ones, which will almost certainly have local environmental consequences. Yet the White House's 25-page summary of its infrastructure plan has just one line on permitting challenges, stating that the administration will use "smart, coordinated infrastructure permitting to expedite federal decisions while prioritizing stakeholder engagement, community consultation, and maximizing equity, health, and environmental benefits." The lack of detail has raised concerns from some clean-energy advocates and members of Congress. "There's no point in allocating around $3 trillion dollars to do this if it's just going to be weaponized by the courts and weaponized by environmental groups," Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R–Texas) said last month at a hearing on modernizing the electric grid. "The law has to be changed."

One way Biden could speed up permitting is by embracing the Trump administration's overhaul of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that mandates environmental reviews of major federal actions. Former President Donald Trump's reforms have been criticized by environmentalists, but presidents in both political parties have long sought to streamline the NEPA process. In 2011, former President Barack Obama issued a memorandum directing federal agencies to "take steps to expedite permitting and review," including "setting clear schedules for completing steps in the environmental review and permitting process." Last year, Trump finalized new NEPA regulations that did just that—cutting paperwork requirements, placing a two-year time limit on environmental impact statements, and excluding more projects from the most stringent form of environmental analysis. The Biden administration says it will rework Trump's NEPA rules, but it has so far declined to reject them entirely, suggesting it may view the changes as necessary to getting its infrastructure plan off the ground. 

Environmental problems involve tradeoffs, and clean-energy policy is no different. The Biden administration will have to acknowledge this if it's going to come anywhere close to meeting its ambitious climate goals. That means admitting that ever-more restrictive regulations aren't always the answer—and that endless environmental review requirements cannot will away the reality of environmental tradeoffs

NEXT: This Professor Shared Body Camera Footage of Cops Strip-Searching a Minor. Now, Prosecutors Want To Throw Him in Jail for It.

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  1. to supply materials for electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines, and other clean-energy technologies.

    Did you mean “or” other clean-energy technologies?

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  3. stating that the administration will use “smart, coordinated infrastructure permitting to expedite federal decisions while prioritizing stakeholder engagement, community consultation, and maximizing equity, health, and environmental benefits.”

    So if one black person, or any gender, cannot afford an electric car, equity demands the project be stopped, right?

    1. My reading says he intends to deny black poor people access to the electric scooters at Walmart.

  4. The site is also home to Tiehm’s buckwheat, a pale yellow wildflower that is only found on a 10-acre patch of lithium-rich soil within the project area.

    If only there were a way to get the lithium out by drilling one 6″ hole or by drilling adjacent to site on the surface, laterally underground, and then pumping all the lithium out.

    1. +1 Montgomery Burns Slant Drilling Co.

      And no.

    2. It is also possible that it isn’t a different species at all and simply grows differently in the presence of lithium. They should have to prove with genetic sequencing that it is unique.

  5. Find another patch of ground, seed it with lithium, and move the damn plants.

    And this is not the 1st lithium mine in the US. Albemarle mines lithium in NV.

    1. 10 acres, it should be trivial to harvest every last plant and grow them more numerously and densely elsewhere.

      I’m more perturbed about the FYTW that’s baked into this as policy. Strip mining is OK as long as it’s done for the environment greater energy production good reason as general policy fuck you for asking for a reason.

  6. Environmental problems involve tradeoffs, and clean-energy policy is no different.

    A sentence more retardation-inducing than lead paint.

    1. Being more verbose; clean energy (let alone the policy) absolutely *is* different. It’s (nominally) supposed to be clean by default and to waive environmental regulations because it’s not is, and I know Reason has trouble with this but it’s accurate, paradoxical.

      1. Can you explain that even better, if even more verbosely, please?

        1. I’m not the person you’re replying to, but I think their point is basically that any energy project that requires waiving environmental regulations can’t really be called clean. The entire concept of clean energy is about minimizing the environmental tradeoffs we need to make to produce our energy, so arguing that we should just unconditionally accept any and all tradeoffs that come with “clean” projects defeats the point. Things like lithium and wind turbines in general can help provide cleaner energy, but that doesn’t mean every specific proposal for a lithium mine or turbine construction project is environmentally sound. The reason specific projects are individually reviewed and debated is to determine if the tradeoffs are actually worth it in that specific case.

          1. but I think their point is basically that any energy project that requires waiving environmental regulations can’t really be called clean.

            Morover, clean energy is the one “source” of energy where the paradox is generated. If we were talking about different regulations for coal vs. natural gas vs. nuclear controlling for different environmental concerns there is no paradox, no redefinition of energy policy. Neither coal nor gas nor nuclear claims to be more/less clean or more regulation compliant intrinsically, they simply claim their fuel source. Clean energy (whatever the form), OTOH, is the one type of energy that does so explicitly.

        2. The regulations are meant to distinguish clean energy (from both a clean and energy perspective) from just energy. If the regulations can’t/don’t do that, is it clean? Is it energy? Is regular old ‘energy’ not clean?

          From an economic, power generation, supply chain, or even thermodynamic perspective, the notion of clean energy as defined (by the regulation) is relatively obviously bunk (especially when comparing mining fuels such as coal, petroleum, or uranium to mining storage media which themselves don’t generate any power such as lithium). There is no “clean” or sustainable energy and it doesn’t much matter if you make a huge mess, generate lots of energy, and clean it up or generate no mess but generate very little and unreliable amounts of power. But even within the environmental/clean conceptual framework the notion that “clean energy that is not clean” should be logically/linguistically crippling.

  7. I predict that the cronies getting the money for those boondoggles will still get the money regardless of whether they ever build anything. If the government red tape holds them up long enough, they’ll be back in a few years for another few trillion dollars.

    1. I wonder if any of them get their mine built, and then start funneling money to environmental groups to take care of the competition.

      1. They won’t have to…Biden will make the right calls to the right donors in these groups and the opposition will disappear. Then when he’s gotten his soundbites and photo ops for generating new green energy infrastructure, he’ll turn the EPA on the developers and nothing will ever come of any of these projects due to environmental concerns.

        Everyone gets what they want, environmentalists get to halt development, traditional generators don’t have to worry about additional competition, the developers take their huge government green development grants home with them and Biden/Harris get two opportunities to show how much they love the environment.

        The only damage is done to the actual environment and taxpayers and we all know how much these tyrants and cronies give a shit about either of them.

  8. So nuclear is off the table, because nuclear; mining is off the table, which is crucial to alternative energy that uses things like batteries, for electric cars [and apparently just making the batteries once you have the necessary elements is a pretty nasty business]; wind turbines kill birds, and solar panels look ugly and take up a lot of space.

    Looks like a return to the stone age is about the only viable option with these cucks.

    1. Why do you think there are all the articles about eating bugs?

    2. I think the only problem with nuclear is the amount of cement involved in building the actual power plants. You find me cleaner cement or another viable material and I am all for nuclear power. Complaints about windturbines killing birds and solar panels being ugly pretty much entirely come from opponents of green energy; turbines kill waaaay less birds than air pollution and I would prefer to see some ugly panels here and there than see my kids grow up in a world that looks like a less stylish Mad Max movie. Congrats for winning an argument against imaginary people who don’t exist, though.

    3. Looks like a return to the stone age is about the only viable option with these cucks.

      And again, that’s a feature, not a bug.

      These people hate everyone who might be enjoying a good life. They hate the people, they hate the freedom and they hate life. This is about control, first and last.

  9. A clean-energy future will require more than just spending money.

    That’s crazy talk! Everyone knows that spending money you don’t have is the fastest way to a magical utopia.

  10. Once Biden decides to spend his political capital to make this happen all of those lawsuits are going to be withdrawn or settled immediately. The world becomes “greener” and Biden gets a win.
    Once he’s reelected, or Kamala pushes him aside, they can unleash the regulators and monitors on the project developers or operators. That way they get two big environmental “wins” for the price of one.

  11. “President Joe Biden’s new $6 trillion budget proposal calls for massive spending increases to advance his climate and infrastructure plans, which include everything from upgrading the nation’s electric grid and building new transmission lines to investing in electric vehicles and other clean-energy technologies.”

    Biden has broken the Green New Deal, which he supported on his campaign website, into smaller pieces and different bills. Public disgust with the Green New Deal is probably a better defense against the Green New Deal being implemented than his fellow Democrats undoing red tape so he can get there. And we should be doing everything we can to make it clear to the public that Biden is implementing the Green New Deal. Some of Biden’s fellow Democrats in the Senate just announced that they won’t be supporting H.R. 1 for fear of what will happen to them in upcoming elections if they did, and fear of a public backlash could help us rally similar opposition to the Green New Deal in purple districts and states, too.

    The other thing that may be working against Biden’s green agenda is those pesky market forces–market forces are practically obsessed with reality, no matter what the news media and the Democrats want them to do.

    “Owners of $100 options—now the most widely owned WTI call contracts on the New York Mercantile Exchange—are making a leveraged bet that oil prices will hurtle higher after already surging more than 40% this year.”

    The smart money is betting that oil is likely headed north of the $70 a barrel number it’s trading at now, and if they’re right about present oil supplies not being able to keep up with demand as the pandemic winds down, people will be upset, like they always are, about high oil prices. Electric cars still make up less than about 2% of the cars in the USA, and screaming oil prices take money straight out of people’s discretionary spending. That’s their standard of living, right there!

    Presidential approval ratings have been tracking gasoline prices for a very long time, and there aren’t any good reasons to believe that has changed.

    https://centerforpolitics.org/crystalball/articles/itw2011042801/

    Incidentally, Millennials act just like their white flight parents and grandparents do, too, just as soon as they get married and have kids–fleeing the cities for the suburbs for all the same reasons, especially the education system. Economic incentives are what they are. No doubt, higher oil prices will make more affluent people buy electric cars, and it’ll drive others to use mass transit. But if you think being reduced to using mass transit or being forced to squander discretionary spending on higher gasoline prices won’t make voters react to those who are pushing environmental policy, you’re nuts.

  12. Biden could repeal all the laws and there won’t be sufficient supply of metals for the fantasy of an electrified infrastructure. The math is so far off in so many ways. There isn’t enough oil to mine the metals on top of normal use. There aren’t enough mines and even the ones that exist are depleting and facing leftist governments in Chile and Peru who want to destroy them and future investment.

    1. The Green New Deal will make the ObamaCare rollout look like a wild success.

  13. All is proceeding as planned and soon I will be the richest motherfucker on the planet.

  14. What good is going ‘green’ if you can’t regulate the hell out of everything and everyone?

  15. When done Biden will have achieved a doubling of gasoline and electricity prices. Maybe your federal income taxes won’t rise (I doubt it) but you’ll sure be paying extra for energy and groceries. As we all know only the rich are affected by this!

    Two one term presidents in a row, that would be just fine, as long as psychopath Harris isn’t the next one.

    1. He’s going to keep every one of his campaign promises using as many quasi- and extralegal means as necessary. The upshot is he gets to carry out a policy agenda in stealth with a complacent judiciary looking the other way and maintain that he never raised a single tax on anybody who isn’t wealthy.

      He’s got a phone and pen….why use anything thing else?

  16. If only we ever had a a president who removed regulations.

  17. Look at the retard here who thinks the gnd is about the environment. It’s not, it’s about control. Read what the progressives want to do through the framing of they want to rule a totalitarian state and it stops being illogical

  18. If Biden’s green agenda is held up by environmental red tape, is that a win or a loss for freedom?

  19. Giving Biden 3 trillion to spend on any scheme is like giving your 16 year old son the keys to your Hellcat and a bottle of Jack.

  20. If [we] could just scrub all the dirt from the earth then [we] could all just starve to death on clean rocks.

    Let’s get some facts straight here ‘clean energy’ psycho paths. Every substance the ‘clean energy’ wants banned is a necessary substance of survival…. SO STOP BEING SO FREAK-EN STUPID!!!

  21. Anyone who believes that we will all be living in some kind of clean green energy garden of Eden is either wilfully ignorant or completely retarded. Of course we will never have enough rare earth metals to swap every fossil burner with a battery. China controls about 90% of the rare earths and they know the US will never come anywhere close to matching that. The insiders here have known this all along and it’s part of their plan to make private vehicles so expensive that the choices for most people will be mass transit, walk, or car share.

    1. The insiders here have known this all along and it’s part of their plan to make private vehicles so expensive that the choices for most people will be mass transit, walk, car share, or pay them/China more directly.

      FTFY.

  22. Call it schadenfreude, but watching the “environmentalists”, “progressives” and the rest of this lot tie themselves into knots brings me no end of satisfaction.

    1. It would be entertaining if they weren’t packing Gov-Guns with them.

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