Unlocking New Mexico's energy potential: The imperative of NEPA reform

New Mexico stands at the crossroads of an energy revolution, with vast untapped potential in clean energy resources like nuclear, wind, and solar, as well as plentiful oil and gas reserves. But to fully harness this potential and drive sustainable economic growth, Washington must support permitting reform efforts.

In recent years it has become increasingly clear that federal environmental rules imposed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) need serious reform if the U.S. is to take advantage of its extensive energy resources. Today, infrastructure projects critical to our energy future have been stymied by a review process that takes seven years on average to complete. This is unacceptable at a time when global energy markets are becoming more uncertain and demand is increasing.

Energy projects of all kinds have been stalled by burdensome NEPA rules, preventing companies in New Mexico and elsewhere from putting homegrown energy supplies to work for all Americans. The proposed SunZia Southwest Transmission Project, for example, was subject to nearly six years of NEPA review before it could move forward on delivering up to 4,500 megawatts of mostly renewable energy from New Mexico to Arizona and California customers.

Revising NEPA could significantly benefit the natural gas and oil sector, which presently infuses more than $16.6 billion into New Mexico's financial landscape, underpins close to 100,000 jobs, and disburses in excess of $6 billion as wages to workers in New Mexico. By effectively streamlining bureaucratic processes that currently delay or even halt vital energy initiatives, we would be indicating to energy developers the federal government's intention to optimize domestic energy resources rather than limit them.

Recent efforts in Congress to pass much-needed permitting reforms, therefore, are good news for New Mexico and the country writ large. A debt ceiling deal reached this past spring included updates to outdated environmental rules governing permitting for energy projects. This bipartisan bill marks the first time in more than 40 years that Congress has devoted serious attention to modernizing and improving NEPA and is a welcome step in the right direction.

While the bill stopped short of a full overhaul of NEPA, New Mexico will benefit from several measures included in the legislation. For example, the bill encourages American energy production and infrastructure development by streamlining the permitting process and allowing developers to deal with a single federal agency when a project undergoes environmental review. It also strengthens this “One Federal Decision” policy by setting one-to-two-year time limits on such reviews, which today can drag on for several years, and further enhances the process by clarifying that reviews should only consider environmental impacts that are “reasonably foreseeable.”

While these initial NEPA reforms are a step in the right direction, more can still be done. As such, Congress and the Biden Administration should follow suit. With New Mexico's energy consumption per capita and energy consumption per dollar of state gross domestic product already above the national average, our state is poised to reap significant gains. Additional reforms that further unlock America’s energy potential will help New Mexico and will lift all states central America’s energy future to new heights, stimulating the kind of growth and momentum our country needs at a time when inflation and economic uncertainty has troubled so many families and businesses.

The path forward for safeguarding America’s energy security has been clear for some time: overhaul NEPA and make federal permitting rules that support the development of more American energy supplies, not less. Paving the way for an already robust energy sector to generate even more revenue and value for local, state, and national economies would be a win for New Mexico, the American Southwest and the rest of the country.

Patrick M. Brenner is the president of the Southwest Public Policy Institute, a think tank dedicated to improving the quality of life in the American Southwest by formulating, promoting, and defending sound public policy solutions. Our mission is simple: to deliver better living through better policy.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Unlocking New Mexico's energy potential: The imperative of NEPA reform