For NEPA Reform in Colorado & Across the U.S.
Posted February 12, 2020
You won’t find better examples of how the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has blocked much-needed infrastructure than in Colorado – where the first of two public hearings on implementing the regulation was held this week.
Numerous projects in Colorado have been – or are currently – on-hold due to NEPA reviews, including the Interstate-70 widening near Denver that will deliver much-needed safety and capacity improvements for drivers. The Environmental Impact Statement for this highway took 13 years to complete and totaled nearly 16,000 pages, finally receiving construction approval in 2017.
Additionally, the NEPA review process for the Northern Integrated Supply Project, which will bring water reservoirs to municipalities in Northern Colorado, was initiated more than 15 years ago and remains ongoing. Investors have contributed nearly $1.2 billion dollars to the project, but authorization from the Army Corps of Engineers is still pending.
By accelerating government permitting for new infrastructure, modernizing NEPA regulations stands to advance the long-delayed construction of critical roadways, bridges, airports and energy developments across the U.S. Colorado Petroleum Council Executive Director Lynn Granger delivered testimony in support of the proposed rule, which was last updated in 1978:
“In Colorado alone, NEPA delays and litigation have postponed a wide variety of needed projects, from highways to grazing to new ski lifts and trails. This in turn deprives Coloradans of new jobs, tax revenues, and public services, and we are pleased to see that CEQ’s proposal tackles these challenges head-on.”
API Senior Counsel Ben Norris also submitted public comments, emphasizing the financial and reputational risks that NEPA presents for project sponsors:
“There is simply no way to responsibly plan for agency and judicial review of major infrastructure in this current state of flux, and this uncertainty significantly chills or even stops investment – an outcome never conceived of by Congress when NEPA was drafted over fifty years ago.”
In 2019, the National Petroleum Council (NPC) highlighted the need for state-of-the-art infrastructure to maintain affordable and reliable energy for all Americans. With natural gas and oil projected to remain a prominent part of the U.S. energy mix through at least 2040, the NPC recommended bipartisan action to streamline duplicative regulatory requirements, reduce inconsistencies across government agencies and shorten permitting processes.
As we’ve noted previously, an improved NEPA process is essential to U.S. energy development and economic progress (see here and here), and key infrastructure build-out is too often held up by unnecessary reviews. That’s why the members of Unlock American Investment – representing shared interests in energy, agriculture, manufacturing, transportation and organized labor – are advocating for NEPA modernization to expand U.S. infrastructure and create good-paying jobs while advancing environmental stewardship.
Ahead of Tuesday’s hearing in Denver, representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, Colorado Farm Bureau, Public Lands Council, Consumer Energy Alliance and American Road and Transportation Builders Association convened to discuss the economic impact of NEPA delays. Ed Mortimer, Vice President of Transportation and Infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the collective interest in regulatory reform for local families and businesses:
“NEPA has become unacceptably burdensome, delaying infrastructure projects that would benefit Coloradans every single day with faster commutes, reduced vehicle maintenance due to upgraded roadways, and more efficient delivery of goods and services.”
The American Highway Users Alliance, an Unlock American Investment coalition member, also explained the real-world need for NEPA modernization with this recent campaign:
Below, a few more examples of projects currently delayed by NEPA reviews, from the Unlock American Investment website:
Alaska – Allison Creek Hydroelectric Project
- The Copper Valley Electric Association moved to add more hydroelectric power to its portfolio, which could eliminate 12,000 tons of power-related carbon dioxide emissions annually.
- Delayed nine years – between 2007-2016.
- $700,000 passed on to members of the local electric cooperative.
Colorado – Gross Reservoir Expansion Project
- This supply project would divert more water from the Colorado River to Denver residents.
- Delayed 16 years – still awaiting a federal permit, as of 2019.
Maryland – Purple Line Transit System
- Originally proposed in 2003, the 16-mile light rail project will provide transit for an estimated 70,000 daily riders in the Washington, D.C. suburbs.
- Delayed 14 years – currently under construction.
Ohio – Project Icebreaker
- Poised to become the first freshwater windfarm in North America, Project Icebreaker would deliver clean energy and thousands of jobs to Northeast Ohio.
- Delay pending – litigation filed in 2019 challenging the adequacy of the NEPA assessment.
About The Author
Sam Winstel is a writer for the American Petroleum Institute. He comes to API from Edelman, where he supported communications marketing strategies for clients across the firm’s energy and federal government practices. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Sam graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina, and he currently resides in Washington, D.C.