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Two bills that would seek to make changes to the National Environmental Policy Act for the purpose of streamlining infrastructure projects recently were introduced by Sen. Ted Cruz.
The Federal Permitting Modernization Act would establish provisions designed to provide a project’s proponent additional authority over timetables and certain protection from litigation.
The other bill would reduce the timetable from 150 days to 90 days for filing a petition for judicial review of a permit, license or project approval. Co-sponsors include Republican Sens. Tom Cotton of Arkansas and James Lankford of Oklahoma.
“For far too long, complying with NEPA has hindered key infrastructure projects, and in some cases, has left projects effectively halted in court,” Cruz (R-Texas), a member of the Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over trucking policy, said June 10. “These much-needed reforms will streamline the approval process and roll back burdensome delays, all of which are needed to get the boot of big government off the backs of businesses and help get men and women all across the country back to work.”
“Keeping our infrastructure up to date is important for the economy and for keeping America competitive in the global market,” Cotton noted. “Too often, burdensome litigation causes our hardworking men and women to sit idle on job sites as they wait on court processes.”
Added Lankford: “These two bills reform the National Environmental Policy Act to protect the environment and provide permitting certainty for projects across the nation, which are critical to the smooth functioning of our economy. There is no better time than now to pursue real reforms that would cut red tape and speed up construction. I am proud to join in this effort.”
Cruz acknowledged the measures aim to complement the Trump White House’s recent action related to the NEPA process. This month, President Donald Trump signed an executive order meant to speed up the permitting process for major infrastructure projects. Specifically, the order directs the transportation secretary to advance authorized and appropriated highway and infrastructure projects through relevant emergency and certain guidelines that expedite the process.
Also, the Council on Environmental Quality will provide agencies guidance regarding its NEPA emergency regulations. Emergency authorities outlined in environmental statutes will serve as road maps for waiving certain environmental reviews for pipelines, highways and other projects.
This year, the Council on Environmental Quality proposed updating NEPA regulations to realize a one-federal-decision vision for permitting. Among the agency’s aims is to reduce paperwork and potential delays to the federal decision-making process pertaining to infrastructure projects.
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee ranking member, has touted the administration’s directive regarding the permitting process. As he recently said, “Time is money, so eliminating delays that hold up or kill projects will have the same impact as increasing funding, and it will let workers get back on the job improving our infrastructure.”
However, key Democrats on Capitol Hill have pushed back on the administration’s focus on the NEPA process. Transportation committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) said: “This administration constantly searches for ways to give to industry, at the expense of average Americans, their health, and the environment, and this is just another way of doing so.”
“It’s unforgivable that as our country is facing a major public health crisis, the president is weakening environmental laws to further pollute our waters, lands and air,” added Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee Chairwoman Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.). “These laws have been created by strong bipartisan majorities in Congress, supported by both Republican and Democratic presidents, and upheld by the courts.”
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