$229.4 billion is the regulatory burden the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is currently imposing on 148 infrastructure projects undergoing review, according to an American Action Forum (AAF) analysis. Since its inception in 1970, NEPA has impeded America’s infrastructure improvements by significantly increasing costs, time, and red tape. It’s time for Congress to reform NEPA to ensure regulatory barriers don’t continue to impede critical infrastructure projects.
Commonsense NEPA reform will remove barriers that have stalled America’s overdue infrastructure projects. The BUILDER ACT (H.R.2515), proposed by House Republicans, for example, would help unlock America’s infrastructure through an efficient review process. H.R.2515 seeks to eliminate bureaucratic rules that have caused delays in infrastructure project reviews and increased cost. The bill will also set reasonable time limits to prepare NEPA reviews. This bill is the right step forward in minimizing unnecessary costs and delays that have placed America’s infrastructure plans in the hands of environmental activists.
NEPA requires federal agencies to evaluate the potential environmental effects of proposed projects through an Environmental Assessment (EA) or a more detailed Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). NEPA only imposes procedural requirements on federal agencies, not an actual requirement to protect the environment.
Currently, a NEPA review has no time limit, meaning the review process can drag on for months. It’s estimated that a typical NEPA review can take 70 months. A range of inefficient bureaucratic rules and procedures have contributed to stalled NEPA reviews, including compliance with local, state, tribal, or federal laws. Recognizing the dilatory nature of NEPA, environmental advocates have filed at least 4,000 federal lawsuits alleging violations, causing further delays.
Environmental activists regularly deploy NEPA to stop essential infrastructure projects. NEPA has been used to delay projects such as the Dakota Access Pipeline to transport crude oil and the Ivanpah Solar Facility to generate renewable energy. NEPA has also been used to block the Obama Presidential Library.
In a March 2021 letter to Congress, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCoC) summarized the need for NEPA’s reform, stating that “NEPA reform would enhance the ability to realize our shared goals of COVID-19 economic recovery and continued progress on environmental protection.” Ed Mortimer, Vice President of Transportation and Infrastructure at the USCoC, stated, “it will simply be impossible to build the infrastructure our nation needs- from telecommunications to roads and bridges to renewable energy without a NEPA reform.”
In 1993, NEPA was used to block a $170 million investment in Michigan’s Grand Haven Congestion Improvement. The project was designed to build a two-lane roadway and bridge to mitigate traffic. However, NEPA has delayed the project for nearly 16 years, impeding job creation and economic expansion.
Despite its objectives of preserving the environment, NEPA does not contain any environmental mandates, unlike the Clean Water Act. NEPA states that federal agencies do not have any mandates to implement the findings of a NEPA review and no “specific statutory obligations” to protect the environment. By failing to actually protect the environment, NEPA does nothing but create bureaucratic burdens to infrastructure projects.
The high cost of preparing an EA or EIS can deter capital investments resulting in lost public benefits. According to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) report, the average EIS completion time was over 4.5 years, and the average cost was $4.2 million. NEPA’s high review cost creates barriers for building America’s infrastructure project, thus denying Americans future job opportunities and economic security. The high cost of NEPA reviews also makes them considerably more expensive than they have to be.
NEPA reform is long overdue, and the current process is impeding America’s infrastructure projects that lead to job creation and economic expansion. The BUILDER ACT is the right step in implementing a reform that seeks to eliminate a range of inefficient bureaucratic rules and procedures that have contributed to high costs and red tape.