Environmental Reviews: Helpful (and Hurtful) to Many Ideologies

Writing at the Heritage Foundation’s blog, Nick Loris says that the White House’s pending decision on whether to consider climate change in federal environmental reviews amounts to "more green tape."

protected_bike_lane.jpgSan Francisco’s newest bike lanes: made $1 million pricier by environmental reviews. (Photo: Streetsblog SF)

Citing Republican senators’ concerns that existing National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements have caused lengthy delays in transportation project planning, Loris writes that adding climate change to NEPA will

guarantee that the billions in infrastructure spending in this stimulus
bill will not be spent till years after the economy has already
recovered. The money that will be spent in the near-term won’t be spent
efficiently; it will be spent overcoming unnecessary regulatory hurdles …

One wonders if Heritage would describe the three-year delay in San Francisco’s planned bike lanes, caused by local bike critic Rob Anderson’s request for a full environmental review, qualifies as an "unnecessary regulatory hurdle." Streetsblog San Francisco reported that the final price tag for the city’s review topped $1 million.

Or how about the opponents of a car-free trial in New York’s Prospect Park, who attempted to delay the project by pushing for an environmental review? Their efforts would hardly meet Heritage’s definition of "green tape" promoted by environmental advocates.

Perhaps Loris would take a different position on the northeast corridor’s failure to secure federal high-speed rail money thanks to the burdensome length of environmental reviews. Since Heritage had previously blasted the entire high-speed rail program as "fiscal waste on the fast track," the group might hail any "regulatory hurdle" that standing in the way of rail expansion.

The moral of the story: NEPA-mandated reviews can be utilized successfully by liberals, conservatives, green groups, highway boosters, and just about every constituency under the sun. That’s an argument for streamlining the environmental review process, not eliminating it.


    I remember watching the debate on the Recovery Act between Sen. Barrasso and the ever-shrill Sen. Boxer, when Barasso proposed to waive NEPA for Recovery Act projects. Admittedly, he went too far, but i couldnt help but cheer him on. As a big-city transportation agency leader, i’ve had more minor projects held up over environmental reviews than i can shake a stick at. Just before Christmas, we received several pages of comments back on an environmental assessmment — the most substantive of the comments was that we “have met all the requirements, but the table of contents needs to be re-worked”. IT TOOK 4 MONTHS TO GET THOSE COMMENTS OUT OF OUR FEDERAL HIGHWAY DIVISION OFFICE — four months we could have been acquiring right-of-way, doing final design, etc. all of this for a new connector roadway that makes possible a new transit-oriented development.

    Moreover, i’ve not yet met a federal “streamlining” process that doesn’t involve more, rather than less, paperwork.

    There’s nothing wrong with NEPA…its the federal bureaucracy that has run amok in implementing it.