Last week President Trump accomplished one of his most important goals: to reform the broken system of federal approvals for major infrastructure projects such as highways, pipelines, and ecological restorations. Once fully implemented, his reforms could spark a historic modernization of America’s inadequate and aging infrastructure.
The system of permits and environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, requires such extensive paperwork and technical study that the cost of obtaining permits can easily exceed those of construction. Its delays, burdens, and uncertainties cost the United States a significant fraction of its entire economic output every year — in the trillions every decade.
Even worse, the delays and outcomes are so unpredictable that losses are staggering, and it is a wonder so many investors are willing to risk it at all. Many don’t. But those who succeed charge premiums to cover their costs, which fall substantially on working families. The hydra-headed and arbitrary regulatory scheme turns agencies full of the world’s best lawyers into a source of uncertainty and risk more typical of developing nations. Americans don’t realize how many infrastructure projects never happen because of these outrageous levels of risk, and how clean and modern our infrastructure could be.
According to NEPA, before a federal agency takes any action that could significantly affect the environment, such as granting a permit for a pipeline, it must prepare an extensive assessment of those impacts. Permits from half a dozen agencies might be required, and their processes are totally separate — despite a web of interdependencies. Each project practically requires the developer to organize an interagency process from scratch. Since NEPA’s passage in 1971, federal agencies and courts have expanded its burdens and risks at every step, far beyond what the statute requires.
Read the full article at National Review.