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BPC Statement on National Environmental Policy Act Proposed Rulemaking

Washington, DC – Bipartisan Policy Center President Jason Grumet today released the following statement regarding the White House Council on Environmental Quality rewrite of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing regulations:

“Every president since Jimmy Carter has sought to improve the cumbersome and inefficient process for reviewing and siting major infrastructure projects. The combination of our nation’s crumbling transportation sector and the imperative to quickly construct thousands of carbon-free energy systems demands continued efforts to improve the NEPA process.

“Much, though not all, of what is being proposed is positive. Efforts to increase the clarity of process, curtail uncertainty, and diminish conflicts among agencies that contribute to delays are welcome improvements. The rule also contains some overreaches that are unnecessary and will extend the very litigation the rule is designed to diminish. Unfortunately, the administration’s constructive proposals are being colored by its irresponsible position on climate change.

“The nation needs a meaningful federal climate strategy, but delaying the construction of roads, natural gas pipelines, and windfarms via the NEPA process is not it. Business groups have come to understand this. The National Petroleum Council, a diverse group of 300-plus members, including most of the nation’s major oil and gas companies, just released a study calling for both mandatory federal climate legislation and NEPA reforms. Tom Donohue from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce advocated for climate change action today in his speech on the state of American business. The Trump administration needs to get on board, or this draft rule will simply exacerbate the litigation delay they are hoping to fix.

“The current NEPA process is itself an obstacle to decarbonization. Rules that tie up pipelines also slow down the construction of vital low-carbon energy technologies. Absent meaningful improvement to the permitting process, it is hard to imagine the nation dramatically revamping its energy and transportation systems in time to avoid the worst effects of climate change or strengthening our resilience against the climate driven risks that are already unavoidable.

“Those committed to researching, investing in, and building the technologies and infrastructure needed to make our climate goals a reality should see these new changes to NEPA as an opportunity. With appropriate safeguards, for example to extend review deadlines when needed, this rulemaking could go a long way toward improving a process that too often increases the length and costs of project development without improving the environment.”

Michele Nellenbach, BPC’s director of strategic initiatives, added:

“When NEPA became law 50 years ago, it had a simple purpose: make sure federal officials understand the impacts of their actions on the human environment and give the public a meaningful opportunity to engage.

“The law did not contemplate how best to resolve differences between federal agencies—or levels of government—acting out potentially conflicting missions. Nor did it provide for transparency and predictability in the review process. These oversights have resulted in significant and costly inefficiencies that policymakers have been trying to fix ever since.

“In recent years, there has been strong bipartisan support for incremental and common-sense process improvements. Such measures were folded into transportation reauthorization bills passed in 1998, 2005, 2012, and 2015, and initiatives launched by previously by Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. The Trump administration’s actions today continue in that tradition.

“The Bipartisan Policy Center has worked extensively to identify ways to make the environmental review and permitting process more efficient, timely, and transparent, while securing the most optimal environmental and social outcomes. These policies have the potential to save time and money and attract private investment. They are also increasingly critical in helping our country transition to a low carbon economy.

“It will be a noteworthy accomplishment if the Council on Environmental Quality can institutionalize process reforms that empower key decision-makers to resolve interagency and intragovernmental disputes, increase transparency, make simultaneous agency reviews the norm, and provide for more predictable and coordinated schedules.

“The Bipartisan Policy Center previously provided input during the proposed rule’s comment period. We plan to pore over this new proposed rule and provide additional comment on how best to make the process work better while upholding longstanding environmental protections. NEPA reform should be a bold step forward and not used as a means for weakening environmental or climate safeguards.”

Jason Grumet and Michele Nellenbach are available for comment.