Imagine working in an industry where the rules that dictate how you do your job haven’t been updated in more than 40 years. Might be time to re-evaluate some things, right?
Unfortunately, that is the reality for the many Upper Peninsula businesses that work on projects regulated by the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). These regulations, which date back to 1978, impact a wide variety of industries that affect our everyday lives – everything from the construction of roads and bridges to water infrastructure, renewable energy projects, and land, forest and fishery management.
When NEPA was signed into law in 1970, it was well-intended. It was a first of its kind effort to make sure environmental protections are taken into consideration when new infrastructure is built.
However, in the four decades since it first took effect, NEPA’s application has become increasingly more nonsensical, costly and inefficient – oftentimes delaying critical infrastructure projects for years while burying state and federal agencies, project applicants and Americans seeking permits in unnecessary paperwork. As the U.S. Secretary of Energy describes it, “NEPA regulations have been like quicksand to the regulated communities. The more they try to comply, the deeper into regulatory muck they sink.”
After studying the current process, the federal Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) found that the average environmental impact statement took 4 1/2 years to complete, with 25 percent taking more than six years. These documents averaged 586 pages in their draft form and increased by 14 percent in length by the time they were finalized, often years later.
Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The Trump administration and the CEQ have proposed some practical reforms that will help streamline the environmental review process to make it more predictable and efficient.
The proposal would ensure more efficient, effective and timely NEPA reviews by simplifying and clarifying regulatory requirements, incorporating certain case law and CEQ guidance, updating the regulations to reflect current technologies and agency practices, eliminating obsolete provisions, and improving the format and readability of the regulations.
Not only would these reforms help keep projects on schedule, they would clear the way for badly needed improvements to our energy infrastructure – projects like the Line 5 tunnel, which is the best way for our state to both protect the Great Lakes from the threat of an oil spill and ensure Upper Peninsula families and job providers continue to have access to affordable and reliable energy well into the future.
Updating NEPA would also remove some of the hurdles that have long created headaches for Michigan’s forestry industry, which contributes $20.3 billion to our state’s economy and supports 96,000 jobs and a subsequent $5.2 billion in labor income for Michiganders.
There’s no reason to keep living in 1970. It’s possible to uphold environmental standards and make sure the public has an opportunity to have their thoughts about infrastructure projects heard while also removing inefficiencies and limiting delays caused by frivolous litigation. It’s time to modernize NEPA.