The Biden Administration has proposed a 236-page revision to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines that will require federal agencies to consider climate change and “environmental justice” in project reviews. For example, if a utility wants to build a natural gas pipeline, agencies will likely have to evaluate if a renewable plant (e.g. wind or solar) would better promote “environmental justice” as perceived by regulators. As such, the Biden administration’s proposal intends to speed up approvals for renewable energy projects while encouraging agencies to limit projects’ impacts on climate change and on communities where greenhouse gas emissions may be higher than in other areas. In other words, the proposal promotes faster approval for Biden’s politically favored projects, while slowing down approvals for hydrocarbon projects that Americans need for daily life as much of what we use each day is produced from or using hydrocarbons. This is part of Biden’s promise to “end fossil fuels.”
- The Biden Administration is proposing revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that include stipulations for projects to promote “environmental justice”– an ill-defined “catch-all” phrase that can be used to justify politically favored projects.
- NEPA has become overly burdensome over its half-century of existence and activists opposing infrastructure use the courts to do their bidding and delay needed projects, increasing expenses and in many cases resulting in their cancellation.
NEPA was intended to protect local environments and the United States, but the Biden Administration redefines “environment” to include the purported “global” effects of climate change. The Biden administration’s NEPA revision states, “Leases for oil and gas extraction or natural gas pipelines have local effects, but also have reasonably foreseeable global indirect and cumulative effects related to GHG emissions.” A footnote states that this NEPA revision accords with the law’s decree that the federal government “assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, and esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings.” What the Administration sees as the federal government performing this role may not be what is best for Americans, who want affordable and abundant energy, but who are seeing higher energy prices and warnings of blackouts to come based on Biden’s energy transition. Americans are also being asked to pay more for mandated appliances, transportation and other necessities in order to theoretically make things better for people around the world who are not U.S. citizens.
According to the White House, the proposal includes revisions that were agreed to in recent bipartisan legislation, including page limits and deadlines for environmental reviews that can take years to complete. However, what the Biden administration has produced does not meet what was intended by the recent legislation, as many Congressmen have indicated.
NEPA Reform Is Needed
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was enacted over 50 years ago. The statute requires federal agencies to assess the potential environmental effects of public works projects and other major government actions. Agencies must consider the aesthetic, historic, cultural, economic and social effects of proposed actions, and provide a document detailing those considerations to decision-makers in the executive branch responsible for issuing permits. The overly broad mandate provides endless opportunities for bureaucratic wrangling and legal challenges, encompassing government financing, technical assistance, permitting, regulations, and federal policies and procedures. Much of this has occurred because of expansive interpretations of congressional intent by activist judges. Every executive branch department must comply and they impose their own NEPA rules. Individual projects often involve multiple agencies with multiple sets of rules.
Activists use judicial review of NEPA assessments to delay projects and those delays can result in higher costs that may eventually discourage or destroy a project. Further, the likelihood of litigation forces agencies to prepare litigation-proof assessments in order to have a defensible position, which generates exhaustive demands for data. The average time to complete a NEPA impact assessment of a transportation project expanded from 2.2 years in the 1970s to 6.6 years in 2011, and that is just one of several permitting hurdles. Every delay increases project costs and postpones the benefits of safer infrastructure for little or no environmental benefit. In fact, if delays produce more congestion for drivers, environmental impacts can increase as motorists are stuck in endless traffic in the absence of a permit to improve transit infrastructure.
At one time, NEPA was the core of environmental regulation. However, the requirement is now redundant as there are federal and state regulations to protect water and air quality, to preserve wetlands and endangered species, and to control run-off, hazardous waste, construction debris, demolition dust, and every conceivable byproduct of infrastructure projects. As such, repealing NEPA might be the best course of action as it would reduce regulatory delays and permitting costs, and expedite the repair of roads, bridges, rails, runways, and energy infrastructure. NEPA compliance costs are not tracked and no comparison of costs to benefits is performed. Few agencies conduct retrospective reviews to determine the accuracy of the environmental forecasts that drive project design. The system is broken, which for opponents of additional construction and improvements to the quality of life for Americans, appears to be the goal.
America’s roads, bridges, airports and railways have deteriorated and there is ever increasing need for additional energy supplies and their shipment coming from all forms of energy including natural gas pipelines. Eliminating unnecessary regulatory barriers would accelerate construction, stretch taxpayer dollars, and ensure Americans have the necessary energy and infrastructure to continue their current lifestyle and make life better for future generations.
President Biden is at it again by twisting Congress’s wishes to gain advantage for his own personal climate agenda. The Biden administration now wants NEPA reform, but only to advance its own politically favored renewable energy and associated transmission projects—not the projects that the American public needs to fix deteriorating road and bridge infrastructure and to promote energy projects that would supply affordable and abundant energy. This may be another Biden overstep that may end up at the Supreme Court.