ACCF files comments on NEPA with Council on Environmental Quality

Chairman Mary Neumayr
Council on Environmental Quality
730 Jackson Place, NW
Washington, DC 20503
March 9, 2020

Re: CEQ NEPA Regulations, Docket No. CEQ-2019-0003 Dear Chairman Neumayr:

The American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan economic policy organization dedicated to the advocacy of pro-growth tax, energy, environmental, regulatory, trade and economic policies that encourage saving and investment. ACCF appreciates the opportunity to provide comment to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) on its proposed modernization of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

When NEPA was enacted in 1970, it was intended to ensure that federal projects would be evaluated to ensure compliance with existing environmental laws. While NEPA provides important safeguards to ensure federal agencies carefully consider environmental impacts, the process as it stands has become a tangle of bureaucratic red tape for many industries wishing to deliver on new, modernized infrastructure projects. Overly burdensome analytical requirements, broad definitions of reasonable effects or impacts, excessive levels of review and endless opportunities for review and comment have led to significant uncertainty in planning major projects.
Consider that NEPA reviews can so prolong a project that by the time permits have been approved, the project itself may no longer be of sufficient scope to meet its intended needs. The I-70 East expansion project in Denver is a good example. According to Matt Gerard of the Plenary Group, an investment company, “[t]he permit process for that project took over 13 years and it ended up with a document that was almost 16,000 pages in length.” As Ed Mortimer of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said of the project: “If it takes 20 years to get a permit, by the time that project is in construction, the capacity it was meant to handle has already exceeded it.” Furthermore, and of great concern to ACCF, long NEPA-related permitting times may exceed financial cycles, meaning that by the time permits are granted for needed infrastructure, the funds – be they public or private – may no longer be available. Consider the potential impact on highway projects, where CEQ notes that 60% of federal highway projects take more than 6 years to complete environmental review.

ACCF is keenly aware that major projects like developing the infrastructure so desperately needed in the U.S. rely on reasonable, fixed schedules and financial predictability to attract the capital needed to bring these projects to fruition. Infrastructure development will have the additional economic benefit of creating millions of jobs and accelerating economic growth and productivity. As such, we support the Administration’s proposal to modernize NEPA, which will allow for increased infrastructure investment, while streamlining the permitting process and assuring sound, fact-based environmental reviews, consistently applied across agencies. Further, we offer the following specific comments.