Advisor and Former Chief Executive Officer, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
January 20, 2020
The Transcontinental Railroad … the Interstate Highway System … the electricity grid that powers our nation. These infrastructure projects – grand in their scale and ambition – laid the foundations of the modern economy, revolutionizing the way we live, travel, and do business. Sadly, despite leaps in engineering technology, completing such undertakings today would be nearly impossible. And even projects that are more modest are difficult to carry out.
The problem isn’t a lack of will or investment but burdensome and outdated regulations – regulations that prevent many critical infrastructure projects from getting off the ground. Because of these regulations, it often takes longer to approve projects than it does to build them. Such delays hinder investment and job growth and can undermine environmental protections.
The most outdated regulations stem from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which is in urgent need of modernization. Fortunately, this month, the Trump administration proposed revisions to NEPA regulations that will result in continued environmental stewardship, better infrastructure, and a stronger economy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce supports these changes and was proud to be present when they were unveiled at the White House.
Last revised in the 1970s, NEPA was created to protect the environment. Recently, however, misuse of the law has blocked infrastructure developments that could have yielded significant environmental benefits. Consider the “Purple Line” public transit project in suburban Maryland. This proposal to expand the D.C. Metro system aimed to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions. But the project quickly became mired in NEPA reviews and litigation, delaying approval for 14 years. Examples like this abound across nearly every state and sector of the economy. Clearly, updating NEPA is necessary to realign the implementation of the law with its original environmental mission.
Modernizing NEPA will benefit the environment by accelerating projects that improve the efficiency of our transportation and distribution systems. It will also spur investment in renewable energy sources and transmission infrastructure. And it will lead to timelier implementation of conservation projects that will mitigate environmental impacts, such as damaging floods and wildfires.
Updating NEPA will further revitalize our infrastructure and jump-start economic growth. It will reduce delays, unlocking investment in development projects and boosting job growth. It will likewise lessen the need for long-term, costly repairs to aging infrastructure.
Our nation’s infrastructure needs repair, and our environment needs protection. By updating NEPA, we can achieve both and grow our economy all at the same time.