Electric Co-ops Applaud ‘Meaningful Step Forward’ on Permitting Modernization

ARLINGTON, Va. – National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) CEO Jim Matheson today applauded House passage of major energy legislation (H.R. 1), which includes critical permitting modernization provisions supported by electric cooperatives.

The bill includes the BUILDER Act (H.R. 2515) which would expedite environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal processes.

“As threats to electric reliability mount and our nation increasingly relies on electricity to power more of the economy, it is critical that Congress streamline the process to permit, build and maintain the infrastructure that keeps the lights on across the country,” said Matheson. “Unless these obstacles are addressed, it will continue to be difficult to meet future energy needs while maintaining affordability and reliability.

“This legislation is a meaningful step forward as we work to maintain, improve and expand critical electric infrastructure.”

The BUILDER Act places targeted and reasonable limits on the environmental review of proposed major federal actions under NEPA. It establishes deadlines and other requirements to expedite the environmental review of such actions.

Co-ops must undergo NEPA reviews when they seek permits to build new energy projects and when they want to remove vegetation that is threatening power lines on federal land. They also are required to go through the NEPA process when receiving project funding and financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service to expand, upgrade and modernize their systems.

Brent Ridge, CEO of Wisconsin-based Dairyland Power Cooperative, echoed Matheson’s strong support for the BUILDER Act, noting that the federal environmental review process takes too long, costs too much and makes it more difficult for co-ops to provide reliable, affordable power to their members.

“Dairyland strongly supports H.R. 1 and appreciates Congress’ effort to provide a pathway for more coordinated, consistent, and timely agency decision-making,” said Ridge. “It’s critical that we place reasonable parameters around the review process and limit unnecessary litigation. Simply put, NEPA modernization is necessary to advance future clean energy projects that will strengthen our economy and benefit the environment.”

Dairyland is a partner in the Cardinal-Hickory Creek transmission line that will deliver wind energy from the upper Great Plains to the Midwest in southern Wisconsin. The project was approved by federal agencies in winter 2020 but has been significantly delayed with costly litigation by environmental groups challenging the decision. It would deliver enough electricity from over 100 renewable energy projects to power millions of homes—but only if it can be built.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association is the national trade association representing nearly 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape. As local businesses built by the consumers they serve, electric cooperatives have meaningful ties to rural America and invest $12 billion annually in their communities.