President Donald Trump’s plan to boost infrastructure could get held up for years in costly environmental reviews, according to a new report.
The American Action Forum estimates it could take 90 months, on average, to approve dozens of high-value energy infrastructure projects — that’s twice as long as it took the Allies to win World War II.
“Even if the United States invested a trillion dollars in infrastructure today, it is highly unlikely we would see a comparable economic benefit in the near term, as most of the largest and projects require five years or more to review,” AAF energy policy expert Philip Rossetti wrote in a new report.
Rossetti found that National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews could slow down any Trump administration plan to boost U.S. infrastructure, especially important energy projects like pipelines and liquefied natural gas terminals.
Trump has been talking about a $1 trillion plan to boost infrastructure for months, but so far there’s been no talks on Capitol Hill of any such legislation. Instead, Trump issued an executive order in August to reduce permitting times.
The order aimed to shrink NEPA permitting times to two years, but Rossetti said more needed to be done to make sure agencies are able to thoroughly review projects on a tight timeline.
Experts expect the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to play a big role in any Trump administration plan to boost infrastructure. FERC approves natural gas pipelines, liquefied natural gas terminals and transmission lines.
FERC ended its quorum in September, and could finally address the $50 billion backlog in energy projects. Though NEPA could slow that project down.
The Energy Department lists 37 projects under NEPA review, 37 of which have to do with energy. Rossetti noted 22 of those projects needed an [environmental impact statement] before it’s approved. That process alone takes nearly 68 months to complete on average.
If a project needs to go through the entire NEPA process — environmental assessment and environmental impact statement — takes about 90 months on average to complete, based on Energy Department data.
“While less than 1 percent of projects may require an [environmental impact statement], it is the most impactful and important infrastructure projects—those high-value projects expected to produce both environmental and economic benefits—that are the most likely to be affected,” Rossetti wrote.
Litigation also holds up major infrastructure projects. President Barack Obama signed legislation in 2015 to shorten the statute of limitations for NEPA reviews from six to two years. AAF says that should be shrunk even more.
President Richard Nixon signed NEPA into law in 1969 to streamline environmental permitting between federal and state agencies. Since then, Congress has passed more environmental laws and federal agencies have issued thousands of new regulations.
“As of this writing, that list has grown to 1,627 endangered or threatened species in the United States,” Rossetti wrote. “Other restrictions, such as the Obama Administration’s requirement for NEPA to evaluate greenhouse gas emissions from reviewed projects, and the 679 energy and environment regulations that have been added to the federal register since 2005, have added to the red tape in NEPA’s review process.”
“The current processes are not necessarily geared toward expeditious review – or even improving environmental outcomes,” Rossetti wrote. “Instead, incentives are to ensure legal compliance.”
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