As America looks to powering our future, there is no question our nation will need to build more electricity generation and transmission. To meet this demand, we will need more critical minerals and open new land access for the minerals and transmission capacity. This reality presents us with many challenges — but even more opportunities to thrive in the future.
Everything from smartphones to electric cars will increase our domestic demand for electricity. Recent efforts by cities and states to ban household use of natural gas will only exacerbate the demand for electricity. That growing demand puts increased pressure on our need for new transmission capacity and the challenges of building these massive new energy projects.
It is important to consider what it takes to build new transmission. I present a case from my state, the SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, which consists of 520 miles of two single-circuit 500 kV transmission lines to connect and deliver electricity generated in Arizona and New Mexico to population centers in the Desert Southwest.
This project was built specifically to meet the demand for renewable energy from populations further West. However, in order to build these lines, the Bureau of Land Management, along with 14 cooperating agencies, led the effort to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
That permitting process started in 2008 and was finally completed after a six-and-a-half-year effort. In other words, a single transmission line, servicing only renewable energy, needed nearly seven years of environmental review under NEPA.
But it isn’t just transmission that’s at issue. Pipelines in America are also facing massive obstacles since their construction and operation will be critical to a cleaner future. The prompt approval of pipelines for methane capture and distribution can prevent flaring and methane emissions while providing clean natural gas for markets and industrial use. In addition, new pipelines for carbon capture and reuse will provide us new opportunities for both carbon sequestration and enhanced oil recovery.
In the end, NEPA has made it nearly impossible to build massive new projects in the United States in a timely fashion. While well-intentioned, NEPA is fundamentally broken and must be reformed. We have proposed reforms but are steadfastly rebuked by activists and radicals who believe that any change will result in damage to the environment. Yet, our inability to act forces development overseas — and children mining cobalt in Africa aren’t doing it in a NEPA-compliant mine nor under U.S. labor protections.
Finally, a cleaner energy future is only possible with an abundant supply of critical minerals. We have allowed our domestic rare earth mines to be closed, shredding our domestic security by forcing our industrial and defense apparatus to depend on foreign powers for these crucial materials.
Currently, the United States relies on China for 20 different critical minerals, including several highlighted by the Department of Defense. This irrational overreliance threatens our national security by imperiling our ability to make equipment and weapons essential to mission success.
But it isn’t just a lack of rare earths mining that threaten our security — it is our complete position on domestic mining as seen in the Rosemont Mine and Resolution Copper projects in Arizona, Twin Metals in Minnesota, and numerous projects across Alaska, Wyoming and Nevada.
Our nation needs more copper, zinc, lithium and cobalt to achieve a cleaner energy future. We need more helium for manufacturing and medical devices. Yet, the domestic permitting process for these projects is measured in hundreds of millions of dollars in costs stretched out over years and even decades.
If we want a more reliable electric future, we will need these minerals and reliable energy infrastructure. If we want that to happen in a timely fashion — so projects can get “shovel ready” — we need to reform NEPA to return it to a project approval process, not a project rejection and lawsuits process.
• Rep. Paul Gosar, D.D.S., Arizona Republican, is the Ranking Member on the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources and serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. He is also Chairman of the Congressional Western Caucus.
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