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March 16, 2020 3:15 PM, EDT

Senate Democrats Offer Resolution Opposing NEPA Changes; Industry Stakeholders Push Back

Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del.Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del) by Jose Luis Magana/Associated Press

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Delaware Sen. Tom Carper and fellow Democrats offered a resolution this month expressing opposition to President Donald Trump’s efforts aimed at streamlining the permitting process outlined by the National Environmental Policy Act, but industry stakeholders are pushing back.

The resolution charges that the Trump administration’s is attempting to “undermine the National Environmental Policy Act through the regulatory process.” Senators joining Carper on the resolution include Maryland’s Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, Oregon’s Jeff Merkley, Massachusetts’ Ed Markey, New Jersey’s Cory Booker, and New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand.

Resolution Against Changes to NEPA by Transport Topics on Scribd

“For 50 years, NEPA has sought to ensure environmental protection, public health and the notion that the American people have a say in the federal decision-making process,” said Carper, ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee. The panel has jurisdiction over highway policy. “Just 60 days ago, the Trump administration proposed a rule that would fundamentally change the NEPA regulations for the first time in its history.”

RELATED: Freight Stakeholders Advocate for Modernizing NEPA

The Council on Environmental Quality, or CEQ, had rejected a request from Carper and other senior Democrats asking for an extension on the public comment period on a proposed rulemaking to update NEPA guidelines.

“CEQ has engaged in extensive public outreach with the benefit of modern technologies and rulemaking procedures,” the agency wrote to Democrats, such as Carper, as well as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.).

In January, CEQ proposed to have a one-federal-decision approach to the environmental permitting rules. A Federal Register notice explained further that the proposal would seek to “modernize and clarify the regulations to facilitate more efficient, effective and timely NEPA reviews by federal agencies in connection with proposals for agency action.”

CEQ Response to Congressional Letter by Transport Topics on Scribd

The administration noted it had received nearly 173,000 comments. The deadline for public comments was March 10.

The American Association of State Transportation Officials, or AASHTO, expressed support for proceeding with an update of the NEPA rules. Jim Tymon, AASHTO’s executive director, stated in a comment submitted March 4: “As the CEQ NEPA regulations have not been comprehensively updated in over 40 years and the environmental review process has grown increasingly complicated and lengthy, AASHTO supports updating CEQ’s NEPA regulations to reflect current technologies and agency practices, encourage brevity, readability, and quality writing in NEPA materials, and promote better decision-making.”

“These reforms would focus NEPA on its original intent — assessing environmental impacts of major projects and actions supported by the federal government — instead of being used as a mechanism for causing delays and uncertainty in planning and building projects, including those in the transportation sector,” noted Dave Bauer, president and CEO of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, or ARTBA, in comments filed March 10.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce formed the Unlock American Investment coalition to promote the administration’s proposed NEPA updates. American Trucking Associations, the National Association of Realtors and ARTBA are members of the coalition.

“If America is to meet its growing challenges on infrastructure, energy and the environment, then we must modernize the 40-year-old NEPA process. In many cases, it takes far longer to obtain a permit than it actually takes to build one of these critical projects, and that should not be acceptable,” the chamber’s CEO, Tom Donohue, said in a statement earlier this year. “That’s why the Chamber strongly supports the Administration’s efforts to streamline permitting processes, and why we are leading a broad coalition representing the business community and workers to support the new rule.”

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