The Trump administration has initiated several steps to streamline the federal permitting process for major projects, including resource extraction and infrastructure. In particular, it has focused on the need to fix the problems surrounding the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which can add years of delays and tens of millions of dollars to the cost of job-creating projects and serves to kill some worthy projects outright.
Worse, the Obama administration added permitting roadblocks that are independent of the NEPA process, such as its preemptive veto under the Clean Water Act of the Pebble Mine in Alaska. This copper, molybdenum, and gold mine has the potential to be America’s largest new mine in decades and a source of thousands of jobs in an economically depressed area. But the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency derailed the mine before the NEPA process had even begun. For decades, it was understood that the Army Corps of Engineers orchestrated the NEPA process, but EPA has created the dangerous precedent of insisting on independent veto authority on its own chosen timeframe.
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), which issues the implementing regulations for NEPA, has solicited comments on ways to improve the program. CEI’s comments focus on the administration’s goal of creating “one federal decision,” and urged CEQ to develop regulations that would require EPA to do its Clean Water Act evaluations within the larger NEPA process. Projects like the Pebble Mine would still have to pass muster under NEPA, but they would not be subject to a separate EPA veto authority. Doing so will better enable such valuable job-creating projects to move ahead without unnecessary red tape.