If all else fails, including your entire domestic agenda, just regulate your way out of the problem – or so goes the progressive playbook. In a move that he claims will help the environment, President Biden’s NEPA regulations are yet another step in bolstering the federal government’s regulatory authority over climate and other impacts from new infrastructure projects. All this will achieve, however, is to further delay crucial energy infrastructure from being built, including the clean energy plans he so heavily supports.
Recently, the Biden Administration announced it was rolling back Trump-era regulatory reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, as part of its Earth Week initiatives. It is revising the definition of environmental “effects” to include so-called “indirect” or “cumulative” impacts, essentially adding more red tape to the bureaucratic permitting process. Environmental groups across the country praised the move and encouraged the administration to continue on this path.
On the surface, it may seem that tightening regulations is good for the environment, lest the evil capitalists of America further exploit public lands for private gain. But NEPA, our environmental review process for major infrastructure projects, dates back to the 1970s and has failed to keep up with the times. Rather than ensuring that infrastructure and energy projects adequately adhere to sensible environmental standards, which is a noble enough goal, Biden’s NEPA regulations add unnecessary hurdles to these kinds of projects. It takes an average of 4.5 years and $4.2 million to complete a review, hugely deterring private sector interest in upgrading and modernizing our country’s infrastructure.
At a time of record inflation and sky high energy costs for everyday Americans, we can’t afford to be making it harder to build energy infrastructure, rather than easier. While Democrats continue to blame Russia’s Vladimir Putin for soaring gas prices, it’s time they took a hard look at themselves. From shutting down Keystone XL to halting oil & gas leasing on public lands, Biden has consistently pursued anti-American energy policies. As his party’s domestic climate agenda has all but fallen apart, courtesy of fellow Democrat Joe Manchin, the President must understand that back-door regulatory mandates won’t solve the problem – only good policy can.
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The great irony of the administration’s latest move on NEPA is that it will disproportionately burden clean energy projects. 42% of all energy projects currently delayed under NEPA are clean energy projects, as opposed to only 15% for fossil fuels. For example, Vineyard Wind off the coast of Massachusetts is set to be the nation’s largest offshore wind installation – but while it was originally proposed in 2009, it will only begin delivering energy by the end of 2023. Red tape, courtesy of the regulatory state, delayed a viable, important project by nearly a decade. If the goal is to deploy more and more clean energy, we’re certainly not making it easy.
Vineyard Wind is a microcosm of how progressive environmentalists have always approached the energy industry: with disdain and deep suspicion. So much disdain, in fact, that they’ve used the regulatory state to make building in this country nigh-on impossible. Consider, for example, that NEPA is the most litigated environmental statute in the U.S. Building new energy projects is slow, expensive, and increasingly prone to legal battles. At the practical level, self-professed environmentalists are actively protesting clean energy projects like solar and wind farms in their own communities, while clamoring for climate action at the federal level. It’s a round hole that Democrats are trying to square.
Of course, the environment isn’t a free-for-all. Sensible environmental standards are important and have a place to protect our communities. But we aren’t talking “sensible” here. The fact is that the Biden’s NEPA regulations are another move further in the wrong direction. We need to streamline regulations so that it is easier to build cleaner and faster – not harder. Real reform means increasing transparency and efficiency within NEPA while still maintaining good environmental standards.
There’s a reason that this meme is circulating on Twitter. While progressives attack conservatives over perceived inaction on climate change, they’re the ones delaying private sector investment in clean energy. If we’re serious about lowering energy prices for everyday Americans and building the energy infrastructure of the future, we have to get serious about pragmatic, smart regulatory reform that makes these goals more attainable.
Christopher Barnard is the national policy director at the American Conservation Coalition (ACC). Follow him on Twitter @ChrisBarnardDL.