Regulation

Joe Biden Wants To Spend Trillions on Infrastructure. His Environmental Reforms Ensure He'll Have To.

The White House is undoing changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that were supposed to speed up the delivery of infrastructure projects.

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President Joe Biden has ambitious plans to "Build Back Better" by spending trillions more on a broad array of infrastructure projects. At the same time, his administration wants to reverse regulatory reforms that tried to speed up the delivery of those projects.

Late last week, the White House's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced that it intends to undo the prior president's changes to the regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Passed in 1969, NEPA requires federal agencies to study the environmental impacts of actions they take, whether that's funding a new highway or approving a new pipeline. Over the decades, the burden imposed by NEPA has grown: The environmental reviews it mandates take years on average to complete and can run hundreds if not thousands of pages.

Donald Trump's administration tried to streamline things a bit by limiting the environmental effects that agencies had to examine and by putting definitive time and page limits on NEPA reviews.

Even those marginal changes, implemented in September 2020, proved controversial with many environmentalists. Their concerns have resonated with the Biden administration.

"The basic community safeguards we are proposing to restore would help ensure that American infrastructure gets built right the first time, and delivers real benefits—not harms—to people who live nearby," said CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory on Thursday.

The proposed rule published by the CEQ in the Federal Register would make a number of changes.

Most significantly, it would restore requirements that agencies' NEPA reviews take into account the indirect and cumulative effects of projects.

The short-lived Trump changes said agencies generally didn't have to study impacts of projects that are "remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain." According to the Biden administration, that narrower requirement prevented agencies from properly accounting for longer-run climate change impacts.

The Trump administration's NEPA reforms also treated CEQ rules as a ceiling, meaning agencies couldn't impose additional requirements of their own. The Biden administration would instead treat CEQ rules as a floor, giving agencies the power to perform reviews that go beyond what the council requires.

Environmentalist groups have generally praised these changes.

"Restoring the obligation to consider direct, indirect, and cumulative emissions is critical for disclosure of climate and environmental justice impacts," the Sierra Club announced last week. "Reviews that don't look at indirect and cumulative effects of fossil fuel projects (such as coal mines, gas leases, pipelines), miss 95 percent of climate emissions and their impact on communities."

Other NEPA experts are more critical, arguing that this is an ineffective and potentially counterproductive way to address climate change.

"All it does is create a little more paperwork," says Eli Dourado, a senior research fellow at Utah State University's Center for Growth and Opportunity. "Given the need to build a lot of infrastructure and new technologies and physical stuff in the world, NEPA is probably on net harming our response to climate change."

Indeed, NEPA has slowed down a number of projects that environmentalists would typically support for their emission-reducing potential.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's 2019 decision to perform a cumulative impact analysis under NEPA of a massive wind farm being constructed off the coast of Massachusetts has significantly delayed that project.

It will likewise take years for the federal government to perform a NEPA-mandated review of a plan to charge drivers a toll to enter lower Manhattan. Environmentalists and transit advocates have generally praised that congestion pricing plan for its potential to reduce carbon emissions and to raise money for public transit. The tolls were supposed to be up and running in January 2021. The need to perform an environmental assessment for the project will mean that it now won't start until 2023 at the earliest.

All the additional green investments the Biden administration and Democrats in Congress want to fund with their $1 trillion infrastructure bill and $3.5 trillion Build Back Better legislation could run into a similar fate.

"It's making some of the infrastructure projects they want to do radically more expensive," says Neil Chilson, a senior research fellow at Stand Together. He says the regulatory changes will also empower the nation's NIMBYs to slow down projects they dislike.

The NEPA process allows third parties to file complaints with federal agencies claiming that the environmental impacts of a project haven't been thoroughly studied enough. Once that complaint is raised, the agency then has to decide if there's any merit to it.

"That process just takes forever," says Chilson, during which time project sponsors are prevented from moving ahead with whatever they're trying to build. NEPA also allows third parties to sue over supposedly inadequate environmental reviews, which can drag things out even longer.

By expanding the number of effects that have to be considered in the NEPA process, the Biden administration is giving project opponents more room to claim that an environmental review is insufficient.

Federal agencies and private project sponsors, in turn, will have to spend more time preparing litigation-proof environmental documents to preempt these complaints, says Chilson.

That could be particularly damaging for solar plants that are proposed to be constructed on public lands in the American west, and which have attracted fierce opposition from local groups concerned about their impact on endangered species and recreational lands.

The White House isn't getting rid of every Trump NEPA reform. The new rule doesn't touch requirements that environmental assessments be no more than 75 pages long and environmental impact statements no longer than 300 pages. "Shot clock" requirements that these reviews be completed in one to two years are also left in place.

CEQ has said that reversing those Trump-era tweaks is only the first phase of its planned rulemaking. In a second phase, the administration says, it plans to make more substantive changes that create "efficient and effective environmental reviews."

That leaves open the possibility that we'll get more productive reforms later on, says Dourado.

"Nobody says everything is fine in permitting world. I expect [the administration] to at least have some constructive ideas for how to improve permitting," he tells Reason.

The average Environmental Impact Statement—the most stringent level of review mandated by NEPA—takes 4.5 years to complete and runs around 669 pages. That's up from 2.2 years in the 1970s.

Dourado thinks the federal government should expand the use of categorical exclusions that allow projects to skip the NEPA process entirely. Chilson says Congress should take still more sweeping action if it really wants to pare back NEPA—which, he notes, can trip up a lot more than just infrastructure projects.

Everything from approval of new vaping products to forest management programs has to go through the NEPA process. Every year, federal agencies produce roughly 176 environmental impact statements and 10,000 environmental assessments (a less onerous version of NEPA review that can still take years).

Because "it's been interpreted so broadly, and because the federal government has a hand in the approval of so many things, many things that would otherwise be private changes now implicate NEPA and all the red tape that comes with it," says Chilson.

Sens. Mike Lee (R–Utah), Ted Cruz (R–Texas), and Kevin Cramer (R–N.D.) have proposed a package of bills that would permanently streamline the NEPA process. The infrastructure bill passed by the Senate also includes an extension of some temporary NEPA streamlining measures.

Not all, or even most, of the new infrastructure spending Congress is mulling should be considered a wise investment. But Biden's proposed NEPA changes only ensure that more federal money will be spent on red tape.

NEXT: Even If Requiring People Who Have Recovered From COVID-19 To Be Vaccinated Is Legal, That Doesn't Mean It Makes Sense

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  1. “Joe Biden Wants to Spend Trillions”

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    1. Joe Biden Wants to Spend Trillions… On PhD eco-science geeks who study the sex lives of Southern Yellow-Bellied Slime Toads, because they (the science geeks, not the toads) vote Democrat! Blue-collar workers who build oil pipelines? So that we won’t all be burned up in tanker-truck and tanker-railroad-car crashes? Actual DATA-DRIVEN analysis of risks and benefits?

      Nah! Can’t have that! Southern Yellow-Bellied Slime Toads (and their apologists) RULE, dammit!

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    2. The idea that allegedly there is a disease that people can get from breathing on eachother so places all over America people cannot go into without a mask on their face.Or they will be arrested for violating a new law.And now Southwest Airlines says people must be Vaccinated just to have a job at the Airline and according to Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty they want to stop nonviolent peaceful Americans from getting on Airplanes or even in the future traveling on highways unless they are Vaccinated.This alleged disease that people can get from breathing on other people can be used as an excuse to shutdown the whole United States and have the tyrannical dictatorship that Abraham Lincoln,Winston Churchill,and Ronald Reagan would all oppose.Since Gary Matsumoto in his 2004 book,”Vaccine A” alleged that in 1986 backwhen Iraq was an American ally the U.S. Government sold Anthrax to Saddam Hussein.A Government that creates diseases after all the post 9/11 CivilLiberties violations claims that because of a disease you can get from breathing on eachother that they need to take your freedom.
      While many Americans feel there are functions that we should have a Government for and there are Government regulations that are needed,no one whatever there political beliefs would ever accept the idea that Americans should be banned from traveling and left unemployed unless they took a Vaccine from the same Government that creates diseases in the First Place.

      While the FDA approved the Verichip a tracking chip that can be put under people’s skin in 2004.And it is a fact that anyone who has the Verichip put under their skin could be tracked by an NSA SpySatellite in the air.
      And Mike Ruppert on his website Copvcia.Com back in 2002 said that Vaccines have tracking chips in them I don’t know what the Vaccines do or don’t have but a Government that creates diseases that has drastically scaled back your CivilLiberties is now after approving the Verichip asking you to take a Vaccine because of an alleged disease that people can get from breathing on eachother which has now worldwide killed 11 million people.

      So I am against COVID-19 CivilLiberties restrictions and Vaccine mandates.But while many people feel there are reasonable Government regulations and Government programs no one is for a society where humanbeings must have something put in their bodies to get on an Airplane and people must wear masks and stand in a distance in stores or have the cops called on them.Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill would say NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE SURE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY DOESNOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH.
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  2. Those who are employed by the government to hold up the projects are core Democrat supporters. Now they can really get to work.

  3. The Regime’s Environmental Reforms Ensure It’ll Have To.

    You think they’ll take that as a threat?

  4. This is a good article and it raises serious questions which one hopes are on the screens of those implementing the infrastructure plan, if ever passed. Let’s stipulate however, that neither Donald Trump or the Sierra Club should be trusted to have a clear vision on issues concerning the environment and our future.

    My only criticism of the article is that it fails to mention that the infrastructure plan passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis, so while Biden would like to take full credit, he only deserves partial credit.

    1. The legislation, which includes $550 billion in new funding for transportation, broadband and utilities, got through in a 69-30 vote, as 19 Republicans joined all 50 Democrats.

      That’s not bipartisan.

      1. OK Diane, if you insist. Joe will take the credit.

        1. For the failure. “Failure” is the new credit, in defeated democrat upside-down land.

        2. Also nice how you immediately admit your lies, shrug, and move on with something else when Paul gives you numbers.

          #PsychopathicIsTheNewDemocratic

          1. That’s how liars role.

      2. It is these days. It’s so bipartisan the commies in the Prog Caucus won’t even vote on it unless they tack on another 3.5 trillion.

      3. In fact, “48 to 52” is the new “bipartisan”.

        1. Also, 48 is a majority.

          1. Hey, it’s 48-2. Mancin and Sinema are kulaks and wreckers.

    2. “…My only criticism of the article is that it fails to mention that the infrastructure plan passed the Senate on a bipartisan basis,..”

      Joe is full of shit. Fuck off and die, Joe.

  5. Joe Biden wants the USA economy to fall….. to Nazi-Regime authoritarianism.

    1. You know who else was the beneficiary of that sort of thing?

      1. The shareholders of facebook?

  6. >>Given the need to build a lot of infrastructure and new technologies and physical stuff in the world

    definitely send this “senior fellow” yoyo out to be the mouthpiece lol

    1. At the moment, Joe Biden is a blessing in disguise. I had no idea how quickly he’d become his own worst enemy. Here he is, suspenders caught on a doorknob, stepping on his own feet, and complaining Republicans are holding him back.

      He, Kamala, and Psalki are doing their damnedest to make 2022 a landslide against them.

      Why would anyone want to get rid of Joe? Let him continue his own goal projects.

      1. >>landslide against them

        I want to believe all that but now that votes don’t count I dunno.

  7. “But Biden’s proposed NEPA changes only ensure that more federal money will be spent on red tape.”

    Didn’t Biden at one point say he didn’t much care what the money was spent on as long as he got his extra $3.5T in spending?

    I don’t understand why you would think he would have a problem with a lot of the money being spent on red tape.

    1. Yeah, for him, spending seems to be the entire point.

      1. If only there would have been a way to foresee that…

        1. There was. That’s why I voted for JoJo.

          1. You voted for a less libertarian candidate in 2020. Good job. Tres principled.

          2. Now check out the following degree of hypocrisy: Many of the writers on reason expressed something along the lines of “I will vote JoJo, but would nose-pinchingly vote Biden if I had any reason to believe Trump will win in my state”. So they totally rationalize voting outside of their range of libertarian principles based on pragmatism. But if I vote Trump with the same rationale, I am suddenly evil and unprincipled.

            By saying what they said, reason writers pretty much implied that this was an election in which there was only so much space to vote your “heart”. And I agree, unfortunately. Idealists that vote a losing position of which they know it will be ineffective are the last thing we need in the reality of 2020 and later. This is not your coddled, libertopian fairytale. And it will continue to be less and less that way. You will feel it.

    2. All that red tape doesn’t make and spoil itself…This, comrades, is a JOBS bill! What, you’re all anti-employment now?

  8. “Joe Biden Wants To Spend Trillions on Infrastructure.”

    No, he wants to spend trillions, and calls it “infrastructure” because he thinks people are idiots. To be fair, he did get elected, so he can’t be that wrong about it.

    1. Most popular president in History. More popular than Obama.

      1. “40” is the new “80”, have you heard the news? His approval rating is in very good shape these days.

    2. 0.55 trillion could plausibly be called “infrastructure”, if you stretch the definition a bit, and go by union pay scales.

      The other 4.15 trillion is pure graft.

  9. Next to the byline, we need a recap of the last POTUS vote to see whether the author should be applauded for pointing that droolin’ Joe is a pathetic piece of shit or whether the author gets reamed for giving us what s/he deserves.

  10. What, no one posted “Fuck Joe Biden” yet?! “Joe Biden” are the first two words of the headline! C’mon people, size off those Monday Blues and step up to the plate already!

    1. Shake not size… mea culpa for the X Large type o

  11. ‘President Joe Biden has ambitious plans to “Build Back Better”…’

    When I first heard of the “Great Reset,” I thought it sounded like a crazy conspiracy theory. I was sure wrong about that.

  12. “It’s making some of the infrastructure projects they want to do radically more expensive,”

    A (pork) feature, not a bug.

  13. Obama ended up admitting that there wasn’t really any such thing as “shovel ready”. Now Biden wants us to believe his infrastructure plan will brings lots of good jobs – and he has some GOP support for his infrastructure plan – but none of those politicians are being honest about how long it takes for new infrastructure projects to be completed. Biden just made the process more time consuming. He will likely be dead before any significant new infrastructure projects are completed.

  14. NEPA is by its essence punishment by process. It holds up “significant” federal action that affects the environment, which would be fine, but for the fact it also holds up the permitting process which, because of the modern scope of the leviathan, is basically everything private too.

    Like the Trump era regs it repeals, a challenge to these changes is not likely to be successful. It can stall them in administrative law land, though.

  15. The idea that allegedly there is a disease that people can get from breathing on eachother so places all over America people cannot go into without a mask on their face.Or they will be arrested for violating a new law.And now Southwest Airlines says people must be Vaccinated just to have a job at the Airline and according to Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty they want to stop nonviolent peaceful Americans from getting on Airplanes or even in the future traveling on highways unless they are Vaccinated.This alleged disease that people can get from breathing on other people can be used as an excuse to shutdown the whole United States and have the tyrannical dictatorship that Abraham Lincoln,Winston Churchill,and Ronald Reagan would all oppose.Since Gary Matsumoto in his 2004 book,”Vaccine A” alleged that in 1986 backwhen Iraq was an American ally the U.S. Government sold Anthrax to Saddam Hussein.A Government that creates diseases after all the post 9/11 CivilLiberties violations claims that because of a disease you can get from breathing on eachother that they need to take your freedom.
    While many Americans feel there are functions that we should have a Government for and there are Government regulations that are needed,no one whatever there political beliefs would ever accept the idea that Americans should be banned from traveling and left unemployed unless they took a Vaccine from the same Government that creates diseases in the First Place.

    While the FDA approved the Verichip a tracking chip that can be put under people’s skin in 2004.And it is a fact that anyone who has the Verichip put under their skin could be tracked by an NSA SpySatellite in the air.Which I assume would lead to increased surveillance by the CIA
    And Mike Ruppert on his website Copvcia.Com back in 2002 said that Vaccines have tracking chips in them I don’t know what the Vaccines do or don’t have but a Government that creates diseases that has drastically scaled back your CivilLiberties is now after approving the Verichip asking you to take a Vaccine because of an alleged disease that people can get from breathing on eachother which has now worldwide killed 11 million people.

    So I am against COVID-19 CivilLiberties restrictions and Vaccine mandates.But while many people feel there are reasonable Government regulations and Government programs no one is for a society where humanbeings must have something put in their bodies to get on an Airplane and people must wear masks and stand in a distance in stores or have the cops called on them.Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill would say NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE SURE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY DOESNOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH.
    Andy Freedman
    (773)661-9929 Phonenumber
    amf152@Yahoo.Com E-Mail address

  16. The idea that allegedly there is a disease that people can get from breathing on eachother so places all over America people cannot go into without a mask on their face.Or they will be arrested for violating a new law.And now Southwest Airlines says people must be Vaccinated just to have a job at the Airline and according to Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty they want to stop nonviolent peaceful Americans from getting on Airplanes or even in the future traveling on highways unless they are Vaccinated.This alleged disease that people can get from breathing on other people can be used as an excuse to shutdown the whole United States and have the tyrannical dictatorship that Abraham Lincoln,Winston Churchill,and Ronald Reagan would all oppose.Since Gary Matsumoto in his 2004 book,”Vaccine A” alleged that in 1986 backwhen Iraq was an American ally the U.S. Government sold Anthrax to Saddam Hussein.A Government that creates diseases after all the post 9/11 CivilLiberties violations claims that because of a disease you can get from breathing on eachother that they need to take your freedom.
    While many Americans feel there are functions that we should have a Government for and there are Government regulations that are needed,no one whatever there political beliefs would ever accept the idea that Americans should be banned from traveling and left unemployed unless they took a Vaccine from the same Government that creates diseases in the First Place.

    While the FDA approved the Verichip a tracking chip that can be put under people’s skin in 2004.And it is a fact that anyone who has the Verichip put under their skin could be tracked by an NSA SpySatellite in the air.Which I assume would lead to increased surveillance by the CIA
    And Mike Ruppert on his website Copvcia.Com back in 2002 said that Vaccines have tracking chips in them I don’t know what the Vaccines do or don’t have but a Government that creates diseases that has drastically scaled back your CivilLiberties is now after approving the Verichip asking you to take a Vaccine because of an alleged disease that people can get from breathing on eachother which has now worldwide killed 11 million people.

    So I am against COVID-19 CivilLiberties restrictions and Vaccine mandates.But while many people feel there are reasonable Government regulations and Government programs no one is for a society where humanbeings must have something put in their bodies to get on an Airplane and people must wear masks and stand in a distance in stores or have the cops called on them.Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill would say NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE SURE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY DOESNOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH.NOW IS THE TIME TO MAKE SURE AMERICAN DEMOCRACY DOES NOT PERISH FROM THE EARTH
    Andy Freedman
    (773)661-9929 Phonenumber
    amf152@Yahoo.Com E-Mail address

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