by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
When the infrastructure spending in his stimulus bill didn’t work as planned, President Barack Obama famously remarked, “Shovel-ready was not as ‘shovel-ready’ as we expected.”
There is a lesson here for Congress. It can pass all the infrastructure spending it wants, but if federally funded projects get bogged down in lawsuits over environmental reviews, then the money will go to waste.
The Senate passed a resolution last week that would preserve part of President Donald Trump’s commonsense permitting reform. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) crossed party lines to vote with Republicans. All other Democratic senators voted to keep President Joe Biden’s job-killing rollback of permitting regulation to what it was in Obama’s time.
“For years I’ve worked to fix our broken permitting system and I know the administration’s approach to permitting is dead wrong,” Manchin said. “Today’s vote to repeal these burdensome NEPA rules is a step in the right direction. But unfortunately this legislation is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives.”
When Manchin says “NEPA,” he is referring to the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act, which empowers environmental activists to go to federal court to stop any infrastructure project that receives a single dime of federal money. These lawsuits can take years, causing unnecessary delays and driving up the cost of infrastructure.
Every pipeline and transmission line built in the United States is vulnerable to NEPA delays. The cost of interstate highway construction, for example, has tripled since NEPA became law, making the U.S. one of the least efficient infrastructure investors in the entire world. The average environmental review required by NEPA now takes an average of four and a half years and runs thousands of pages long.
The Trump administration issued regulations reforming the NEPA process, including a two-year limit for all NEPA reviews. Biden undid these commonsense reforms last October.