Trump Administration NEPA Reforms Will Lead to More Infrastructure
Last week, the White House Council on Environmental Quality issued new regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that will provide a much-needed boost for America’s infrastructure.
Passed into law in 1970, NEPA requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impact of their actions, including infrastructure projects like powerlines, power plants, water infrastructure, railroads, manufacturing plants and many others that require permits from the federal government.
While well-intentioned, NEPA has had the unintended consequence of adding endless delays to infrastructure projects. NEPA reviews have ballooned into a multiyear process that lacks certainty and transparency. Few understand the criteria for approval, and if approved, few know how long the process will take. This uncertainty means many infrastructure projects are never considered.
To understand the complexities and delays of the NEPA process, imagine trying to build a road across state lines. To begin, one would need the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct an environmental assessment (EA) to determine if the road will have a significant impact on the environment. If the agency determines the project will have a significant impact on the environment, the agency then creates an environment impact statement (EIS) that lays out the potential ways a government action could impact the environment. These documents often extend into thousands of pages and can take years to complete. If the road also crosses land that is under Department of Interior control, a second EA and potentially EIS would need to be completed, as agencies currently do not rely on other agencies reviews. Often, infrastructure projects require assessments from several different agencies. Making the process even more confusing is that agencies have their own separate procedures and terminology for the NEPA review process.
Under the NEPA review process, infrastructure projects often take years to finish. In fact, CEQ says “it takes Federal agencies four and half years to complete environmental impact statements (EISs) under NEPA, and for some projects it takes much longer.” This goes against CEQ’s guidelines for NEPA which recommends these reviews be conducted in a year.
The Trump Administration’s update of NEPA regulations is long overdue. Regulations implementing the law were issued in 1978 and have not been updated since. The new regulation codifies CEQ guidelines, like time limits for EA and EIS reviews, that have been supported by Democrat and Republican presidents alike. The Trump Administration’s reforms will also place limits on how long the review process can take and streamline the process by having one review for multiple agencies.
ALEC CEO Lisa Nelson gave the following statement on President Trump’s NEPA reforms:
We are excited that Trump administration will streamline the review process under the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) so that Americans wishing to build modern infrastructure will receive clear answers from the federal government in a timely manner. The world has changed a lot since 1978 when the White House Council on Environmental Quality first issued NEPA regulations and outdated rules have created red tape. From broadband internet and cellphone towers to water projects and power lines, all types of infrastructure important to our modern lives will benefit from more a timely and efficient NEPA process.
See other quotes from Governors, state and local representatives, and organization leaders on NEPA modernization in the Department of Interior press release.