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September 23, 2020 4:30 PM, EDT

House Republicans Unveil NEPA Reform Bill

Sam GravesRep. Sam Graves (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg News)

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Legislation aimed at updating the environmental review process related to infrastructure projects recently was introduced by House Republicans.

The Building U.S. Infrastructure through Limited Delays and Efficient Reviews, or BUILDER, Act seeks to reduce the costs of big-ticket projects to enhance the country’s economy.

The measure would promote coordination between stakeholders and federal agencies, eliminate redundant provisions and require the use of reliable data sources, as well as clarify National Environmental Policy Act requirements.

“Whether we are working to restore coastal wetlands or improve infrastructure, it is taking longer to conduct a NEPA review than it does to actually carry out projects. This delays progress and diverts money from solutions to bureaucracies. The legal red tape is not working for the environment, and it is not working for the people. Our legislation fixes that by updating the 50-year old law to remain focused on the goal of protecting the environment while eliminating obstacles to progress,” Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) said Sept. 22. He is the Select Committee on Climate Crisis ranking member and one of the bill’s sponsors.

Graves

Garret Graves

“Reducing delays in the approval process for infrastructure projects can have the same impact as a boost in investment,” added Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member. “[Rep.] Garret Graves’ bill is a smart and much needed reform that will help rebuild America, restore our economy and get Americans back to work, all while continuing to effectively protect the environment.”

The measure comes at the same month as a policy agenda from the chamber’s Republican caucus. Besides proposing to streamline environmental permitting guidance, the plan calls for expanding high-speed internet and rebuilding surface transportation. “The BUILDER Act would reduce delays in the NEPA process by eliminating outdated provisions and ensuring practical project review timelines — all while bringing jobs back to hardworking Americans and continuing to protect the environment,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

BUILDER Act by Transport Topics on Scribd

According to the Republicans’ infrastructure plan, as presented on McCarthy’s official webpage, “Many of America’s roads, bridges, and tunnels are in disrepair. Beyond the wear and tear to our cars — which is costly — it keeps us in traffic longer and away from what matters most: our families. It’s time to stop talking about the issue and start solving it.”

Congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump have made streamlining the environmental permitting process central to their agenda. During his tenure, the president has taken aim at the NEPA process, and his administration recently announced a final rule meant to modernize and accelerate environmental reviews. Doing so, the administration explained, would help to enhance efficiency and affordability. The move seeks to facilitate a two-year period for completion of certain environmental impact statements.

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“To build a highway in this country, it could take, in certain places, 18, 19, 20, even 21 years to get approved,” Trump said in August. “This is not even thinkable. And we’ve got it now down to two, and we’ll have it down to probably one. And it may get rejected for safety reasons or for environmental reasons. That’s OK; it may happen. But we have it down — we will soon have it down to one year from as much as 21 years. We have cases that have just been disastrous.”

Senior congressional Democrats have expressed opposition to the Republicans’ aim at NEPA. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee, recently observed, “As humanity faces the greatest environmental challenge of our time, the fight to save our planet from climate change, we must work together to find lasting solutions. This highly divisive, harmful and partisan rollback will not last.”

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