About 351 energy projects -- both conventional and alternative -- have been stopped in their tracks nationwide due to a sluggish permitting process and environmental opponents. This is costing the U.S. economy $1.1 trillion in gross domestic product (GDP) over a seven year period and 1.9 million jobs annually, according to a report released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Thursday.

The stalled projects include 38 natural gas and platform projects, 22 nuclear, one nuclear disposal site, 21 transmission projects, 111 coal projects and 140 renewable energy projects. Notably, 89 wind, four wave, 10 solar, seven hydropower, 29 ethanol/biomass and one geothermal projects are also stymied. The bulk of the blocked natural gas projects are in the Northeast and in New England.

The projects were audited in late March 2010 and at that time were in various stages of the permitting process, according to the Chamber of Commerce.

Significantly, about 45% of the challenged projects were renewable energy projects. In fact, 'not in my backyard' activism blocked more renewable projects than coal-fired power plant projects, the study said. Most of the stalled renewable projects, especially wind, were in California. This comes as congressional lawmakers representing the state have supported renewable energy as an alternative to oil and gas drilling.

"This study should serve as a wake-up call for legislative action to improve the permitting process," said William Kovacs, the U.S. Chamber's senior vice president of environment, technology and regulatory affairs, during the unveiling of the study, "Project No Project: Progress Denied." The study was carried out by Herndon, VA-based research firm TeleNomic Research.

If the energy projects were unstuck, the study assessed the economic and job impact this would have on three stages of the projects: investment phase, operations phase and total benefits after operating for 20 years.

In aggregate, planning and construction of the stalled projects would generate $577 billion in direct investment, calculated in current dollars, the study said. The indirect and induced effects of this would generate an approximate $1.1 trillion increase in U.S. GDP, including $352 billion in employment earnings, over an average construction period of seven years, it said. Because the study excluded domestic onshore and offshore oil and gas drilling projects, the impact on GDP and employment may be greater.

The operation of the challenged projects would generate $99 billion in direct annual output, calculated in current dollars, which would yield $145 billion in increased GDP, $35 billion in employment earnings and an average 791,200 jobs per year of operation, according to the U.S. Chamber. "Assuming 20 years of operations across all subject project types, we estimate the operations phase [alone] would yield a potential long-term benefit of $2.3 trillion in GDP, including $1 trillion in employment earnings."

In the end, "the total potential economic and employment benefits of the subject projects, if constructed and operated for 20 years, would be approximately $3.4 trillion in GDP, including $1.4 trillion in employment...and an additional one million or more jobs per year," the study said.

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