Leaders from across Colorado and the nation spoke in favor of proposed reforms of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) at a White House Council on Environmental Quality hearing in Denver held earlier this week.
The law, which governs the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure development, hasn’t been updated since 1978 and often leads to delays of 10 years or more for crucial road, energy, water, and agriculture projects.
As the Independent Petroleum Association of America explained in its testimony:
“NEPA underwent its last major update in 1978 and it’s well past time for a modernization of the law to help spur economic development, innovation, and improved environmental protections. Unfortunately, opponents of this proposed reform say its only intention is to weaken environmental protections. But the reality is that NEPA has become so outdated and burdensome that it actually makes environmental outcomes worse.
“Directives from past presidents and regulatory modifications have made NEPA far more complicated than the original intent of the law. It has now become so unworkable that critical energy and infrastructure projects are being delayed, and that’s stalling the environmental benefits they will bring. Through modernization of NEPA, we can cut emissions through more efficient energy production and transmission, and the construction of new roads and bridges that reduce traffic congestion.”
At the hearing, business leaders representing a broad range of industries said the reform would lead to more jobs, increased investment, and better environmental outcomes.
Ed Mortimer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
“America needs to jumpstart investment in infrastructure to maintain our competitive edge. Investments in transportation, energy, communications, and other projects would improve the quality of our infrastructure to help move goods in a faster, more reliable, and more resilient manner providing both immediate and long-term economic benefits to communities across the U.S. It is time to unlock American investment in infrastructure.
“The Chamber fundamentally support the goals of NEPA, but believe that it is critical both for environmental protection and economic growth, that the review process be streamlined. The time needed to complete an environmental impact statement has become progressively longer, now taking four and a half years on average to complete. Such delays affect important business decisions that can prevent or delay the maintenance, rebuilding, and expanding of infrastructure, and can be an unnecessary drain on the economy while forestalling the economic benefits these projects often provide.”
Diane Schwenke, Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce:
“We need federal permitting for many of our local economic drivers on this land from agricultural grazing to mineral extraction to mountain biking trails for tourism to placement of solar arrays and expansion of our water reservoirs. We also have needed environmental assessments for local road and bridge projects.
“My business community supports this effort to be more efficient and streamlined in performing the environmental assessments necessary for federal permitting while not affecting the actual protections afforded our natural environment. They understand the need to modernize. I assure you that there is not a business process that even our smallest employer uses today that has not been updated in the past 40 years.”
Dirk Draper, Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce:
“There’s no question NEPA is needed. But rapid growth in Colorado is taxing our infrastructure. It takes years to plan and construct projects. We need to be able to deliver the transportation, water, and energy projects Colorado’s citizens need efficiently and affordably. We support the proposal to modernize regulations. Regulations should ensure taxpayer dollars are used efficiently. Joint schedules, a clear lead agency, coordination among agencies, time limits, and clear definitions will reduce duplicative reviews.”
Zach Riley, Colorado Farm Bureau:
“Opponents of this reform will say that it will hurt the environment but protecting the environment has long been a bipartisan priority to farm families. Why should our laws and regulations stay stuck in the 1970’s while our knowledge of the environment and how to protect it, advance? Modernizing NEPA regulations to clean up wording and limit pages, do nothing to alter protections in the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act. In Colorado, we know growing the economy and protecting the environment go hand-in-hand. Many projects that are currently delayed by an outdated NEPA would help reduce emissions, make our energy grid more efficient, address critical transportation issues.”
Emily Haggstrom, Consumer Energy Alliance:
“Due to its onerous nature and lack of transparency, NEPA and the CEQ regulations have been weaponized by anti-development and anti-business groups in the form of a litigious gun, pointed at project developers to create an endless cycle of delays and obstruction in an attempt to drive up costs, making projects uneconomical and ultimately increasing the cost of energy to consumers. The efforts have also created a regulatory system that is no longer predictable, transparent, or consistent.
“These proposed, common-sense reforms to the NEPA regulations will help to return our regulatory approval structure to what it was intended. These reforms will create greater certainty and efficiency for families and businesses without sacrificing environmental protections. As a country, we need to be able to count on the federal government as a partner to move our communities forward. These rule changes will do just that.”
Neil Hansen, P.H. Livestock Co.:
“Streamlining the environmental review process for Grazing Permit renewals and permitting of range betterment projects is critical. Too many times grazing permits are tied up for years over issues that may or may not be related to the utilization of the forage. Often these renewals are slowed because of some minor change in the permit that currently requires lengthy evaluation that common sense tells you is unnecessary. Streamlining of the permit renewal process will help give my industry some badly needed operational security and encourage the investment of time and money into the land and water resources.”
Matt Girard, American Road & Transportation Builders Association:
“The I-70 widening project – a $1.2 billion project to alleviate severe traffic congestion through the expansion of 12 miles of highway – has become an infamous illustration of the need for NEPA reforms. The project will provide the first safety and capacity improvements to I-70 since the highway’s construction in 1964 adding both capacity and shoulders for breakdowns. The NEPA process for this stretch of highway took over 13 years to complete, involved over 200 hundred public meetings, and set a record for length—almost 16,000 pages. This I-70 story is the definition of a broken NEPA process.
“NEPA modernization will not and should not guarantee favorable decisions on projects but will greatly improve the NEPA process’ reliability and timeline by resulting in a more expeditious, while still thorough, review process, without impacting existing environmental standards. NEPA was never meant to be a statute enabling delay, but rather a vehicle to promote balance.”
A second hearing will take place in Washington, D.C. later this month.
This post appeared first on Energy In Depth.