Taming The Environmental Beast That Was Meant To Be A Watchdog

What was first proposed by Congress as a modest law to assess the environmental impact of highway construction and other publicly owned projects, has grown into a bureaucratic monster, the likes of which no one ever imagined.

Nearly a half-century ago, before major federal environmental laws existed, Congress wanted to ensure that all federal agencies consider the environmental impact of their actions. This well intended action led to passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

However Congress didn’t envision how a seemingly modest watchdog law would become the regulatory monster that it is today.

America’s permitting and regulatory process is now so tightly bound in red tape, virtually no major energy or construction project can be accomplished without years of permitting delays, involvement of multiple government agencies, and seemingly endless litigation. According to a 2016 review by the National Association of Environmental Professionals, it now takes an average of 5 years to complete one NEPA environmental impact statement. This timeline doesn’t include the years of litigation that routinely follow every major energy and construction project.

In North Dakota, a much needed drinking water project, the Northwest Area Supply Project, was held up in permitting and court for nearly 15 years. Fort Collins, Colorado has been trying to expand the Halligan Reservoir to help boost its drinking water supplies and protect against drought. More than ten years later and the project has still not been finalized. In Georgia, it’s taken more than 15 years just to study the potential impact of the Savannah Harbor Expansion. Such delays are simply inexcusable and unnecessary.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle in Washington have been frustrated with the unnecessary delays and the bureaucratic quagmire of our permitting system. There is bipartisan recognition of NEPA’s problems. President Obama sped up the NEPA process for many of his projects as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus package. The Obama administration recognized that an expedited permitting process doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment.

It’s time to make a more efficient NEPA process the rule, not the exception. New infrastructure projects to provide clean drinking water, clean and reliable power, safe bridges and tunnels are crucial for our nation. President Trump is now tackling the issue of permitting reform head-on, laying out a comprehensive plan to streamline approval for major infrastructure projects.

Read more of this Investor’s Business Daily op-ed by James W. Coleman by clicking here.