When John Podesta left his job as an adviser to President Barack Obama nearly a decade ago, he was confident that hundreds of miles of new power transmission lines were coming to the Southwest, expanding the reach of clean energy throughout the region.
So Podesta was shocked to learn last year, as he reentered the federal government to work on climate issues for President Joe Biden, that the lines had never been built. They still hadn't even received final regulatory approval.
“These things get stuck and they don’t get unstuck,” Podesta said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Podesta is now the point person for untangling one of Biden's most vexing challenges as he pursues ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. If the president cannot streamline the permitting process for power plants, transmission lines and other projects, the country is unlikely to have the infrastructure needed for a future powered by carbon-free electricity.
The issue has become an unlikely feature of high-stakes budget talks underway between the White House and House Republicans as they try to avoid a first-ever default on the country's debt by the end of the month.
Whether a deal on permitting can be reached in time is unclear, with Republicans looking for ways to boost oil drilling and Democrats focused on clean energy. But its mere presence on the negotiating table is a sign of how political battle lines are shifting. Although American industry and labor unions have long chafed at these kinds of regulations, some environmentalists have now grown exasperated by red tape as well.