Targeted NEPA Reform Supports Efforts To Reopen America's EconomyThu, 28 May 2020 08:48:43 CDT
Congress is spending trillions of dollars to provide relief and to protect jobs during the unprecedented shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the ideas being considered to stimulate the economy is rebuilding America’s aging transportation, information, and energy infrastructure.
The likelihood of this infrastructure investment makes it even more important for the Trump administration to finalize its proposal to modernize the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.
ConservAmerica is releasing a policy report today on the need to update the NEPA process to ensure that economic growth and environmental protection continue to be equally valued.
The report is based on written comments by NYU Law professor and Hoover Institute Senior Fellow Richard Epstein on the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) proposed revisions to the NEPA process that ConservAmerica submitted in March.
Read the full policy report here.
Federal agencies are required to evaluate the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposed actions under NEPA to ensure compliance with existing environmental laws.
While NEPA provides essential safeguards to ensure federal agencies carefully consider environmental impacts, the process has become a tangle of bureaucratic red tape and now extends far beyond what Congress originally intended. The rules for carrying out NEPA were last adjusted in 1978 and the process is long overdue for an update.
In 2017, President Donald Trump set a goal of completing permit reviews and authorizations for major infrastructure projects within two years. In January 2020, the administration unveiled proposed changes to the rules for implementing NEPA, including the two-year time limit for completion of environmental impact statements (EIS) and one year for environmental assessments.
“We support the purpose of NEPA to ensure that potential impacts to the environment are taken into consideration. But too often, the NEPA process has been used as a regulatory cudgel to stop infrastructure and other projects that are in the public good,” said Jeff Kupfer, president of ConservAmerica. “The changes put forth by the administration are overdue. And they are especially timely as policymakers are likely to authorize new spending and infrastructure in response to the coronavirus pandemic.”
The proposed reforms would help ensure environmental reviews and authorization decisions involving multiple federal agencies are done in a manner that reduces unnecessary burdens and delays, including improving coordination between agencies to simplify and accelerate the review process.
NEPA reviews must now satisfy overlapping agencies’ jurisdictions and, as a result, can take longer to complete than the project in question would take to construct. This not only puts jobs and investment on hold but sometimes keeps a project from ever leaving the drafting table.
The average environmental impact statement required by the NEPA process takes four and a half years to complete, according to CEQ.
“With Congress and the Trump administration focused on safely reopening the economy, we think one of the best investments they can make is in rebuilding America’s infrastructure. Modernizing the NEPA process will allow for necessary public input and proper consideration of environmental factors,” Kupfer said, “but will also result in projects being built efficiently and promptly.”
ConservAmerica supports targeted reform of the NEPA process as envisioned in the CEQ proposal and encourages the Trump administration to finalize the changes.
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