EPA Overhaul Long Overdue

Prudent public officials should anticipate that some future periods will be warmer and other periods cooler than today. They should also affirm that cold is the greater threat to human health and prosperity. Thus investments should place priority on building robust infrastructure and ensuring reliable affordable energy. These things can not be achieved if the planning and approval process is so long and costly that needed developments are discouraged or abandoned.

The worst kept secret in US politics is how effectively environmental activists and lawyers have used EPA regulations to block, impair and frequently kill off projects for energy infrastructure. Some regions like the Northeast are lacking natural gas supply pipelines from US sources and are forced to import from Russia, among other foreign producers. Former EPA administrator made the point that some people believe that if you are for the environment you are against development, and if you are for development you are against the environment. Instead the law and the agency have the mission of ensuring environmentally responsible development, recognizing that natural resources are essential to human flourishing.

Thus I welcome this announcement reported in the Wall Street Journal Trump Seeks Overhaul of Federal Environmental Rules  Of course the subtitle say: Environmentalists criticize proposal, saying it will hamper efforts to slow climate change.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

WASHINGTON—President Trump proposed a major overhaul of federal environmental permitting, responding to business complaints of bureaucratic delays to infrastructure projects such as roads and energy pipelines.

“We want to build new roads, bridges and highways bigger and faster,” Mr. Trump said from the White House, adding that the proposal would help create new jobs.

But environmentalists assailed the changes to rules tied to the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, saying they would weaken standards at a time when climate change is making federal review even more critical.

“Forcing federal agencies to ignore environmental threats is a disgraceful abdication of our responsibility to protect the planet for future generations,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said this week anticipating the overhaul. He called it a “gift to the fossil-fuel industry.”  The administration sees the move as a broad-based effort to modernize rules that have gone largely untouched for more than 40 years.

The primary aim is to shorten the review process to two years—a drastic change given that assessments can now take a decade or more.

“The step we’re taking today…will hit a home run in delivering better results to the American people by cutting red tape that has paralyzed common-sense decision-making for a generation,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said on a call with reporters. “The consequences of the government being stuck in place are far-ranging.”

Some projects that don’t have significant federal government funding or involvement might now become more likely to skirt the process altogether, a change likely aimed at helping pipelines in particular. For projects that do have to go through the NEPA review process, the changes would clarify what environmental effects agencies have to plan for and what future changes to the environment permit reviews will have to consider in advance. The stated goal is to limit reviews to environmental risks more directly associated with a project.

Critics fear that is a major setback for planning around climate change. Administration officials say agencies would still have the option to include climate-change risks in their permitting processes. But infrastructure experts and environmentalists say any weakening in that connection would be a step in the wrong direction as the effects of climate change are becoming more pronounced and society needs stronger rules to adapt to those emerging risks.

Issuing this proposal is an early step in what could be a lengthy process. There will be at least two months of public comment starting when the proposal is published on Friday, administration officials said. Many more months of review will likely follow that before any changes are finalized.

Many expect the administration won’t have enough time to finish an overhaul if Mr. Trump isn’t re-elected in November. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D., Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, on Thursday called the rewrite illegal, potentially foreshadowing several lawsuits that could further delay an overhaul.

The president on several occasions has criticized the environmental permitting process as a bureaucratic barrier to economic development. Many lawmakers and economists say that America needs to fix a backlog of infrastructure needs, which the administration has pegged at roughly $1 trillion.

In recent months, the administration has turned its attention to addressing several bedrock environmental laws and changes aimed at jump-start development. A plan to overhaul NEPA would be the latest in a series of moves that have also tried to limit the reach of the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act, especially in how much those laws require consideration of risks associated with climate change. The NEPA review process can serve as the ultimate fail-safe on environmentally unsound projects.

But energy companies and manufacturers in particular have argued that NEPA, in recent decades, has become a tool for environmentalists to block progress. Since its last update, major roads and pipeline projects have become harder to complete and a drilling boom has led to an expansion of oil-and-gas production nationwide. Industrial interests have asked for a modernization to improve efficiency and consistency in permitting across federal agencies.

“The administration’s modernization of NEPA removes bureaucratic barriers that were stifling construction of key infrastructure projects needed for U.S. producers to deliver energy in a safe and environmentally protective way,” said Anne Bradbury, chief executive of the American Exploration & Production Council, a trade group for some of the country’s largest independent oil-and-gas companies.

Environmental groups have been concerned that an attempt to streamline NEPA permitting would degrade its ability to protect the environment. They have criticized the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 decision to eliminate letter grades that often came as guidance in the process. Such changes can make NEPA reviews less helpful to the public and weaken a process designed to prevent oil spills and other environmental accidents, environmentalists said.

Footnote:  

Convoluted and CO2 obsessive regulations are a large factor leading to the Australian bushfires.  Also, Canada is unable to build a badly needed pipeline expansion that the federal government wants and owns because of the same kind of onerous environmental permitting processes.

3 comments

  1. Hifast · January 9, 2020

    Reblogged this on Climate Collections.

    Like

  2. oiltranslator · January 10, 2020

    I thought EPA stood for Environazi Poltroon Arbeiterpartei

    Like

  3. Bob Greene · January 10, 2020

    Sue, delay, sue and settle has been a great source of income for environmental activists and law firms. I’m sure they are screaming about these losses.

    Dominion Energy has been working to bring a new natural gas pipeline from the Marcellus shale area to Virginia and North Carolina. Environmentalist have fought this continually. The latest was getting a valid air permit for a compressor station not far west of Richmond sent back to the Virginia Air Board. The issued permit was for a minor source because the compressors had state of the art emissions controls. Modeling showed no no significant increase in air pollutants. The judge ignored existing state and federal law in returning the permit. The pipeline is 2 years behind schedule and $2 billion over budget. So far.

    My opinions are based on writing air permit applications for combustion sources in Virginia since 2001.

    Like

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