Make America Build Again: Reform NEPA Now

Make America Build Again: Reform NEPA Now


Please note up front: Designed to ship Marcellus natural gas in West Virginia to North Carolina, the proposed 600-mile, $8 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline was just canceled because of “a battery of legal obstacles that still loomed.” This is a potential train wreck for consumers along the 1.5 Bcf/d route. For example, pipelines are obviously essential for an increasingly gas-based state like North Carolina, producing no gas itself and surrounded by non-gas producing neighbors throughout the south.

Natural gas leads and has generated over 39% of North Carolina’s electricity this year, compared to 0% for wind and less than 6% for solar. Back in 2012, gas generated just 17% of North Carolina’s electricity. Again, blocking such energy projects like gas pipelines does nothing to reduce demand, only surging costs. Just ask New York and New England. Maybe worse: Coal Wins! Atlantic Coast Pipeline Canceled.”

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The Trump administration recently released its agenda for the coming months. Of note, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is looking to propose changes to several parts of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to improve the efficiency of the approval process for projects such as pipelines and electricity generation.

DOE also wants to better the coordination between agencies involved in environmental reviews, to expedite the approval process and end burdensome regulations. NEPA has delayed hundreds of projects in the last decade alone.

The Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) seeks to cut red tape and improve the permitting and enforcement process. For instance, over the past decade, environmental impact statements (EISs) have averaged a ridiculous 600 pages, even though NEPA regulations have recommended a 150 page limit, or at most 300 pages for highly complex projects.

NEPA reform would make such page limits mandatory, also adding a new, 75 page limit for environmental assessments. For decades now, CEQ has recommended that an EIS should be finalized within one year.

Thank goodness we now appear serious about NEPA reform.

Signed into law in 1970, NEPA was intended to ensure that new development projects protected the environment. NEPA requires the government to consider a range of options for major construction projects, with individual Americans allowed to challenge those projects.

This process, however, is highly subjective and can drastically slow down the development of energy builds and other infrastructure. From wind farms to gas pipelines to roads and bridges to airport runways, NEPA has been misused to block development and investments in key projects. NEPA reviews take 6-7 years on average and cost some $4-5 million.

This is creating perpetual uncertainty over costs and timelines that can make projects uneconomical, destined to never get built. As we head into the November elections, many of the “green” projects being proposed will not reach completion without streamlining environmental review.

Importantly, the need to reform NEPA is clear enough that it is uniting competing industries, such as wind power groups and oil and natural gas.

Indeed, lest we forget that NEPA reform stands to benefit renewable energy projects as well. After all, long delays and piles of red tape hamper all businesses:

  • “The American Wind Energy Association supports improving the National Environmental Policy Act review process…the NEPA process has not been revised in decades. As a result, infrastructure projects, including land-based and offshore wind energy and transmission development, have encountered unreasonable and unnecessary costs and long project delays,” Amy Farrell, Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs, AWEA, January 2020
  • “This proposed rule from the White House Council on Environmental Quality is an important step to greater transparency and efficiency in the NEPA process and will help America’s natural gas utilities continue to provide timely, safe, reliable and affordable service to the 179 million Americans that enjoy the benefits of natural gas and the millions more that want it,” Karen Harbert, CEO, American Gas Association, January 2020

It is very easy to see why NEPA reform has wide ranging support. It would allow businesses and agencies to deliver new infrastructure for America’s post-pandemic economic rebound, via more jobs and tax revenue, expanding energy domination, and reaching our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions with more gas and renewable energy development.

Today’s reality check from Bloomberg: “Natural Gas Is the Past. Natural Gas Is Also the Future.”

Increasing transportation efficiency, for instance, might be our most vital environmental goal: Is there a bigger climate and emission problem than the miles upon miles of gasoline-devouring gridlock throughout America’s cities?

Remember too that the American Society of Civil Engineers has given America’s Infrastructure a D+ grade.

We must go big. We need expansive new builds and upgrades.

Thankfully, installing a massive infrastructure development plan has strong bi-partisan support – sadly, an advantage that has become increasingly unique in Washington, DC and around the country.

Pretty much every business and industry has been hugely disrupted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Now is the time to help their new projects materialize faster and cheaper.

Now is the time to reform NEPA.

Further reading:

  • From Unlock American Investment, here is a sample of delayed projects due to the arduous NEPA process.
  • From the Regulatory Transparency Project, “A Long and Winding Road: How the National Environmental Policy Act Has Become the Most Expensive and Least Effective Environmental Law in the History of the United States, and How to Fix It.”



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