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NEPA: An Environmental Law Subverted


WASHINGTON, D.C., November 29, 2017 -

Today, the Full Committee held an oversight hearing to discuss improving and modernizing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The panel discussed deficiencies in NEPA’s implementation and potential legislative improvements to enable the law to best serve its intended purpose.

“In 1969, NEPA was originally designed as a tool to assess the impacts of government actions on the environment. Unfortunately, today it has become a sweeping regulatory framework that does the exact opposite,” Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT) stated.

“We can both better protect the environment and allow for thorough review and processing of critical economic, energy and infrastructure activities in a timely manner. These concepts are not mutually exclusive.  But it simply won’t happen unless Congress acts to clarify NEPA’s intent, scope and limitations,” Bishop added. 

Witness Philip Howard, Chairman of Common Good, noted that prolonged environmental reviews on a range of NEPA projects negatively impact the environment, a contradiction of NEPA’s original intent. He cited NEPA-related permitting delays in rebuilding the nation’s highway infrastructure resulting in an extra 51 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

“These delays are costly and, often, environmentally destructive,” Howard said.

Howard lauded NEPA’s original environmental objectives. The goals, however, “have been subverted by a process that takes years and ends up interfering with important projects instead of promoting better projects.”

Witness James Willox, Wyoming County Commissioners Association Member, reiterated the disconnect between NEPA’s intent and the statute’s implementation.

“What was once a helpful look at proposed actions has metastasized into a grotesque perversion of Congressional intent whereby agency officials are forced into years of analysis and reams of paper designed to fend off litigation instead of making sound, informed policy decisions,” Willox said.

“NEPA itself was never intended to be an obstructionist part of our infrastructure nor building of any other thing. But it has been used as that,” Rep. Don Young (R-AK) stated. “NEPA should not be used to slow down and impede development because it does not protect the environment. And that’s really what we should be talking about.”

Witness Mike Bridges, Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council Executive Board Member, echoed the same concerns, emphasizing the law’s negative economic impacts.

The seemingly endless and arbitrary regulatory process in Washington State will discourage future projects that would employ members of the Building Trades and my community,” Bridges said.

Members and the panel discussed changes to the law including increasing the role of counties and local governments, fast-tracking the permitting of projects, and avoiding duplicative environmental analyses.

Counties in Wyoming and across the West are ready and willing to assist in the goal of modernizing NEPA to ensure that it continues to work for the benefit of decision-makers,Willox said.

Click here to view full witness testimony.

Contact: Committee Press Office 202-226-9019

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