House Republicans Introduce NEPA Reform Bill

Rep. Sam Graves (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

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Republicans on the transportation panel in the U.S. House of Representatives recently introduced a bill designed to streamline aspects of the federal environmental permitting process.

The Building United States Infrastructure Through Limited Delays and Efficient Reviews, or BUILDER, Act would aim to codify Trump-era environmental provisions that have been criticized by congressional Democrats.

Specifically, the bill would outline the functions of federal, state, tribal and local agencies during environmental reviews. It would call for proceeding with environmental scrutiny while seeking to minimize delays, and it would ensure practical project review timelines.

Additionally, the bill would clarify threshold determinations for an environmental document under the National Environmental Policy Act, eliminate certain provisions and emphasize coordination with stakeholders as well as agencies.

The bill was introduced ahead of the Democrat-led House transportation panel’s consideration of a highway policy measure. The Democrats’ highway bill would likely be taken up as early as May.

Republicans have pushed back on President Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion infrastructure plan, pointing to its scope and funding mechanism. The plan would be backed via an increase in the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. A GOP alternative to the White House’s infrastructure plan is expected to propose a different funding source.

“The president’s call for bipartisan action on infrastructure should start with reforming the overly lengthy and costly project review process,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), a co-sponsor. “By approving needed infrastructure projects more efficiently, we can make our limited resources go much further while maintaining strong environmental protections.”

Another lawmaker took aim at the outdated nature of some of the underlying law.

“The National Environment[al] Policy Act was enacted in 1970 to ensure the productive coexistence between the environment and the American people, but after 50 years of bureaucratic desk-jockeying, it has become an unproductive obstacle that is failing the very people and resources it is supposed to be serving,” added Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.). “NEPA review is project purgatory, taking orders of magnitude longer to study projects than the time needed to complete them. Our bill fixes this broken approach, while protecting the environment, and updates NEPA so it can fulfill its purpose and deliver to taxpayers the infrastructure enhancements, coastal wetlands restoration, flood protection and other improvements it currently impairs.”

Other sponsors include House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.), and Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.).

“At a time when the Biden administration and congressional Democrats are advancing radical environmental policies that empower federal bureaucrats, prevent economic growth and stifle energy producers, we need to be enabling local stakeholders to make vital improvements to our roads, bridges, railways, and waterways that have been stalled due to NEPA’s outdated guidelines,” Cheney said. “This commonsense bill will modernize the broken NEPA review process and allow for the kind of infrastructure projects that both parties agree we need to move forward.”

“While improving infrastructure across our country must remain a priority, doing it in a way that is timely and cost effective should also be of top importance,” added Rules Committee ranking member Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), another co-sponsor.

The measure was referred to the committee of jurisdiction. Senators in the Republican Caucus are expected to support a similar version.

During the Trump administration, the NEPA process was tweaked in an effort to accelerate the approval of certain big-ticket infrastructure projects. Democrats, who legislated from the minority at that time, had pledged to undo those Trump-era NEPA reforms.

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