NRDC Report Recommends New Pathway for Clean Energy Permitting Reform

New report charts progressive permitting solutions 

WASHINGTON – An NRDC report released today outlines key challenges in the permitting process and recommendations to ensure that the buildout of new clean energy infrastructure at the scale and pace required to meet U.S. climate goals minimizes impacts to biodiversity, lifts local communities, and combats rising inequality. 

“To meet our clean energy potential and climate challenges, we need to double the number of projects permitted and built each year,” said Nathanael Greene, a senior advocate at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and the report’s lead author. “We also must double the rate at which we expand the transmission system and simultaneously shift to building large interstate transmission lines instead of the small local lines that are mostly added today. We can realize a clean energy future with health, environmental, and economic benefits for all communities, but this work needs to begin now to get the upper hand on climate change."  

The report, Down to the Wire: Progressive Permitting Reforms Will Accelerate Renewable Energy and Transmission Buildout and Help Meet U.S. Climate Targets, lays out a strategy for achieving this clean energy deployment that manages opposition without gutting foundational environmental protections. This includes early community engagement, increased federal staffing to accelerate reviews and “smart from the start” approaches that identify appropriate areas for clean energy deployment.  

The report provides a path to break through bottlenecks and strengthen engagement, without rolling back safeguards for frontline communities, ecosystems, and species. 

To achieve the Inflation Reduction Act’s full potential, by 2035 the United States needs to build approximately 564 gigawatts of renewable electricity and storage; enough clean energy to power its 130 million homes across the country. However, in 2022, U.S developers built just 25 gigawatts worth of energy from 530 large wind, solar, and storage projects.  

The report outlines four key solutions to filling this gap and more quickly advancing clean energy projects nationwide:  

  1. Use existing federal government authority to site, permit, and allocate costs for large interstate transmission lines and increase community engagement; 
  2. Make informed community engagement for transmission and large-scale renewable energy projects a prerequisite, not an afterthought; 
  3. Improve federal coordination, accountability, and staffing of clean energy permitting and environmental reviews; 
  4. Embrace “smart from the start” planning to ensure that clean energy projects deliver conservation benefits and mitigate impacts by placing an early emphasis on appropriate siting to avoid impact.  

“There are ways to improve the coordination, accountability, and efficiency of clean energy permitting at the federal level without undermining core parts of our bedrock environmental protection laws,” said Christy Goldfuss, chief policy impact officer at NRDC. “Breaking through these bottlenecks cannot be a justification for gutting the National Environmental Policy Act.”  

Claims that NEPA is the main source of permitting delays are unsupported by data. The Council on Environmental Quality estimated that 95 percent of projects are granted categorical exemptions under NEPA; meaning no review is needed. Fewer than 5 percent require environmental assessments, which are significantly less involved than the full environmental impact statements (EIS) required of the remaining projects—less than 1 percent of the total. 

Read more on the success of NEPA in this blog

The United States has installed 135 GW of wind capacity (12 percent of our energy capacity) and 58 GW of utility-scale solar capacity (5 percent of capacity) as of 2021, fossil resources (coal, gas, and oil) still make up 63 percent of our energy capacity (676 GW.) Although this pace is increasing, it is still not enough. 

“The IRA presents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make real progress toward a clean energy future for all,” said Cullen Howe, senior advocate at NRDC and report co-author. “However, it will require us to transform our way of thinking and problem-solving in order to build renewable energy generation and transmission at an unprecedented speed and scale.” 

Recent NRDC analyses of different energy pathways to net zero conclude that the nation must ramp up solar, wind, storage, and transmission deployment at tremendous speed and scale—even beyond the pace set by the IRA—to meet our 2050 goal of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions  

Today’s report also recommends steps the administration, Congress, states, and other key stakeholders—like the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)—can take to ensure we do not miss this moment to increase renewable capacity. 

Broadly speaking, reshaping planning processes to foster more inclusive and authentic engagement with greater community benefits requires:

  • More comprehensive and better planning from the outset, using a “smart from the start” approach that aims to mitigate harms as a first step of siting 
  • Ensuring that clean energy and large multistate transmission projects create economic and conservation benefits for the communities that host them 
  • Enhancing stakeholder involvement so that host communities and other impacted groups are involved early and throughout the planning phase 
  • Elevating local community input and engagement, while also preventing communities from unreasonable vetoes of large projects 

Read more about the report recommendations in this blog

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Established in 1970, NRDC uses science, policy, law, and people power to confront the climate crisis, protect public health, and safeguard nature. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, Beijing and Delhi (an office of NRDC India Pvt. Ltd). Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.