- - Thursday, August 6, 2020

Since Day One, President Trump has vowed to reduce regulatory burdens, particularly for our nation’s rural communities. The recent modernization of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is proof that this administration is following through on his promise. 

Every American — Republican, Democrat or otherwise — can agree that protecting our environment should be a priority. 

Unfortunately, over the past several decades, the law has been turned into a tool used by radical environmentalists and special interest groups to slow — or even halt — infrastructure construction and improvements, including conservation projects, anti-pollution efforts and habitat restoration work. 

NEPA permitting is a step all businesses, local governments and community developers must complete before progress on projects — from traditional infrastructure like roads, highways and bridges to important energy infrastructure like hydroelectric dams and power structures — can begin.

The average timeline for the NEPA review is 4.5 years, but some approvals can take as long as two decades. That is simply too long to wait, and these delays often result in more harm being done to the local communities these regulations aim to help. 

The Allison Creek Hydroelectric Project in Alaska, for example, aimed to generate electricity with affordable hydropower. The project, however, was severely delayed due to the outdated NEPA process. After receiving its preliminary project permit in 2008, the project did not receive final approvals until late 2013 with operations finally beginning in late 2016 — eight years later.

According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, this delay cost co-op members in Alaska more than $700,000. These results outline exactly what should not happen under the NEPA review process. The process delayed generation of fish-safe hydroelectric energy and resulted in increased costs for Alaskans. 

The Upper Fryingpan Vegetation Management Project aims to manage 1,631 acres of land in Colorado. Active management of our federal lands is key to ensuring effective conservation, wildfire prevention, forest resiliency and habitat restoration – all of which this project aims to address. However, despite being proposed over three years ago, the project remains stalled due to litigation against the U.S. Forest Service’s plan to initiate this restoration work. 

Despite following the NEPA review process, plaintiffs can still sue, due in part to the frivolous and outdated application of the law. Instead of ensuring the Upper Fryingpan area is a wildfire-resistant habitat for the snowshoe hare, the federal government is now using its resources to argue in court against petitioners who are hell-bent on denying the removal of dead, diseased trees that are prone to causing wildfires. This distortion of the NEPA hurts the environment and the surrounding communities.

Fortunately, the Trump administration recently completed the first modernization of the NEPA in over four decades — an action that is long overdue. 

By creating a streamlined application and review process, projects like Allison Creek and Upper Fryingpan will no longer face burdensome, unnecessary delays. These new regulations are welcomed by communities across the country that cannot afford to wait for these critical projects, and we are grateful to President Trump for delivering this relief.

• Dan Newhouse is a Republican U.S. representative from Washington. Steve Scalise is U.S. House of Representatives Minority Whip.

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