By John Schneidawind, vice president of public affairs, ARTBA
The Trump administration Jan. 9 announced proposals to modernize the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which ARTBA believes will both reduce delays to key transportation improvements projects and maintain environmental safeguards.
“It can take up to seven years to complete the environmental review process for a new federal-aid project. That’s too long,” ARTBA President Dave Bauer said. “The Trump administration’s commonsense reforms will help speed up the delivery of U.S. transportation infrastructure projects. Streamlining the NEPA process is essential to assuring that the government is making every transportation dollar go as far as possible while preserving a commitment to our environment.”
Bauer was among a select group of business leaders present at a White House event as President Trump made the announcement. At the event, the president said the updates would reduce those seven-year delays by up to 70 percent. He said in many cases project approval or denials would be completed in less than two years.
“We want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, bigger, better, faster, and we want to build them at less cost,” Trump said.
See the White House announcement.
The full effects of the Trump environmental reform proposal, Bauer noted, won’t be felt until Congress addresses the other most pressing transportation policy issues: a permanent revenue solution for the Highway Trust Fund and passage of a new highway and transit investment bill.
“The best next step is for Congress to approve a robust, multi-year transportation infrastructure investment bill that Republicans, Democrats and the president have been calling for since the 2016 elections.”
NEPA was last updated more than 30 years ago. The statute is an essential tool for protecting the environment, but its outdated review procedures have delayed – sometimes for years – desperately needed transportation improvement projects while offering no tangible environmental benefits.
The changes to NEPA will result in a swifter review process without impacting existing environmental standards. Transportation projects also still must meet a myriad of additional requirements to comply with the federal Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, and other laws.
In previous regulatory comments and in legislative testimony, ARTBA noted that NEPA plays “a vital role in protecting the public interest in the transportation project review and approval process. It provides a sense of predictability and ensures a balance between meeting our nation’s transportation needs and protecting vital natural resources. These goals, however, do not have to be in conflict, the association says. The most successful transportation streamlining provisions have been process oriented and have essentially found a path for regulatory requirements to be fulfilled in a smarter and more efficient manner.”
ARTBA said it will submit extensive comments in support of the Trump administration’s NEPA proposal as part of the public review process.
ABOVE: Video screen grab of Jan. 9, 2020, White House announcement.