Bringing NEPA Into 21st Century Will Advance U.S. Infrastructure
Posted July 16, 2020
Improvements to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) – the first modernization proposed in nearly half a century – should help clear red tape that can bog down critical infrastructure projects for years and in the process block job creation and affect environmental protection.
The administration’s priority on updating NEPA to streamline infrastructure projects was clear in that President Trump made the announcement. The Council on Environmental Quality estimates that due to NEPA red tape, the average review takes nearly six years, and the average cost to complete a review is $4.2 million.
Modernization of NEPA is long overdue. NEPA review is a chief reason that building infrastructure has become so challenging in this country. A long menu of infrastructure projects has been impacted by protracted NEPA review, not just natural gas and oil projects (see previous posts here and here). These include airports, traffic improvements, wind farms and more.
This is harmful to the country and consumers, especially given that U.S. infrastructure needs – quantified in a study estimating potential infrastructure investments could top $1 trillion over the next 15 years. API President and CEO Mike Sommers:
“NEPA modernization will help America streamline permitting to move job-creating infrastructure projects off the drawing board and into development. Today’s action is essential to U.S. energy leadership and environmental progress, providing more certainty to jumpstart not only the modernized pipeline infrastructure we need to deliver cleaner fuels but highways, bridges and renewable energy. These reforms will help accelerate the nation’s economic recovery and advance energy infrastructure while continuing necessary environmental reviews.”
Contrary to headlines you might see, NEPA modernization does not roll back or reverse environmental protection or the public’s opportunity to be involved in the review process. Facts to counter some of the falsehoods surrounding the NEPA proposals:
- Consistent with U.S. Supreme Court precedent, the proposal requires federal agencies to consider all effects or impacts specific to a proposed project.
- The proposal maintains robust public input and directs agencies to provide clearer guidelines for the public commenting period.
- Reform will not impede renewables and other forms of energy. In fact, NEPA review has slowed renewable projects, including solar facilities on federal lands, offshore wind farms and hydroelectric facilities. Reforming NEPA will help bring more clean natural gas to market, which is essential for the growth of intermittent sources.
- The proposal maintains environmental reviews for all energy projects, including pipelines.
NEPA improvements are welcome and timelier than ever when job-creating infrastructure projects could help boost a struggling economy. A sampling of some of the other voices supporting NEPA improvements:
North American Building Trades – “NABTU supports reforms to NEPA that provide regulatory certainty through the permitting process while maintaining the integrity of underlying regulations that protect the health and safety of our members on the jobsite as well as the environmental and human impacts of projects in communities throughout the country. … We now hope added certainty will assist private development and finally spur robust public investment …”
National Association of Manufacturers – “Manufacturers are committed to smart, strong environmental protections, improving the lives of all Americans and building a more inclusive future together. … Onshoring manufacturing requires first establishing basic infrastructure – from water and energy delivery to transportation – before ground can ever be broken on a major facility. … CEQ’s bold steps today utilize existing authority to strengthen reviews, reduce the time necessary to obtain permits and set the stage to incentivize job creation and investment in America.”
Tom Donohue, U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO – “If America is to meet its growing challenges on infrastructure, energy and the environment, then we must modernize the 40-year old NEPA process. … Reducing delays and uncertainties associated with infrastructure investment and related projects will allow businesses to plan and invest with confidence while enhancing economic productivity and supporting more and better-paying jobs throughout the country.”
Terry O’Sullivan, LIUNA general president – “The NEPA overhaul will modernize the permitting process for energy and transportation infrastructure and speed up the creation of good jobs while maintaining the integrity of the underlying regulations that ensure that the environment and communities are protected. The hard-working members of LIUNA, who have endured the endless delays plaguing so many infrastructure projects, hail these common sense reforms and the inter-agency accountability built into the Administration’s proposal.”
About The Author
Mark Green joined API after a career in newspaper journalism, including 16 years as national editorial writer for The Oklahoman in the paper’s Washington bureau. Previously, Mark was a reporter, copy editor and sports editor at an assortment of newspapers. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Oklahoma and master’s in journalism and public affairs from American University. He and his wife Pamela have two grown children and six grandchildren.