One of the Trump administration’s signature achievements was cutting the overwhelming red tape facing major infrastructure projects in America. This week the White House announced that it is delaying a key part of those reforms, with more significant changes to come. Rolling back the reforms would be a setback for all Americans, not least those who share President Biden’s commitment to social justice and climate action.
Most major infrastructure projects, such as bridges and solar projects, require federal permits and lengthy environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. Since the law’s enactment, the process had become exorbitantly costly, time-consuming, and unpredictable. The result is that America’s infrastructure is the world’s costliest to build, with often prohibitive risk to capital investment — and that includes clean-energy infrastructure.
No presidential administration can on its own sweep away the federal obstacles to American infrastructure and to the equitable, clean-energy future of Biden’s dreams. Only Congress can do that, and there is little in the latest infrastructure package to suggest that it has done so.
Still, Trump introduced major improvements to NEPA, both streamlining the convoluted process and restoring NEPA to something approaching the original intent of the law.
Trump’s process reforms limited environmental-impact statements to no more than 150 pages and required agencies to complete them in no more than two years. Agencies were also required to agree to a joint project schedule at the start of the process, so stakeholders could at least predict when key decisions would be made.
Other improvements clarified key statutory terms that courts have expanded far beyond Congress’s original intent. Trump’s changes helped ensure that NEPA is triggered only by actions that are truly federal, that agencies study their own alternatives rather than those of project applicants, and that time is not wasted studying environmental impacts that are speculative, remote, or negligible and beyond the scope of the agency’s permit review. I was involved in this effort at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Read the full article at National Review.