While Democrats in Congress were having palpitations and forecasting climate catastrophe as a result of the Trump administration’s streamlining of rules governing the review of federally funded infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970, Nevada’s lone Republican representative in Congress took the time to review the rules and finds the changes long overdue.
President Trump announced earlier this month that environmental reviews of such things as roads, bridges, pipelines and power transmission lines were taking far too long and were too burdensome. The average review was taking four-and-a-half years and ran nearly 700 pages, one of the longest was for a 12-mile expansion of Interstate 70 in Denver. That took 13 years and exceeded 16,000 pages, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The new rules prepared by the Council on Environmental Quality limit major projects to two years and 300 pages or a year and 75 pages for smaller environmental assessments. More difficult cases could be extended with approval of federal officials.
Nevada Republican Congressman Mark Amodei, who represents Northern Nevada, concluded that the process had been weaponized by those with a political agenda rather than a legitimate concern for natural resources and the environment.
“If the answer for something needs to be no, then fine, say no and say why and let people get to the courts or not, whatever they want, but using the due process — and I use that phrase loosely — the administrative process of NEPA to de facto kill things through basically, ‘It’s going to take you a decade and we’re hoping that you shrivel up and die,’ was not intended by anybody,” Amodei said in a recent interview. “Those procedures have been weaponized to the point that there’s nothing really to do with the resources or the facts on the ground.”
Amodei noted as an example of this weaponization the prolonged debates and litigation over the habitat of the greater sage grouse in Nevada and other Western states — especially attempts to block mining permits.
“If it’s about your political agenda that’s one thing, but if it’s really about the resources, we went through a lot of that on the sage hen stuff. If it is really about fragmentation and loss of habitat, then let’s talk about that,” the congressman said. “Talk about how we fix that, but if it’s just really about you just hate mining companies. While we’ve permitted in the last 20 years 150,000 acres of mining in the Great Basin, woodland fire has consumed, I don’t know, somewhere around 8 (million) or 10 million acres. If you really care about sage hens you ought to be talking about fuels management. While you may have permitted 150,000 acres of mining, they’ve also rehabbed habitat for mule deer and stream zones for fish.”
Amodei concedes there is a need for reviews, saying he knows there was a time when rivers caught fire. That was the low point, he said, and was why President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency.
He noted that when he came into office eight years ago mining permits were constantly being challenged, but the big mining companies had the resources and staff to fight and win.
“Listen, nobody’s afraid of the truth but it shouldn’t be something where it is really not about the truth but it is about how long we can draw out getting to that,” he said. “I interact with a lot of the federal land managers around the state on a regular basis in my oversight capacity and I can tell you this, it is my opinion and I’m not criticizing any of them. Frankly, those agencies give a lot of thought to the probability or possibility that they are going to get litigated. These folks who have abused the NEPA process count that as money in the bank: ‘We’re gonna sue you,’” noting this is why a deadline is necessary.
Amodei again pointed out that there is nothing in the rules saying the federal land agencies can’t say no to a project that would truly be demonstrably harmful. “So somebody puts an application in where it’s like, hey, this is in the middle of the last known habitat of the desert pup fish and you propose to fill in the spring and obliterate the whole of the species forever. If the answer to that is supposed to be no, say no,” he said.
A version of this editorial appeared this week in some of the Battle Born Media newspapers — The Ely Times, the Mesquite Local News, the Mineral County Independent-News, the Eureka Sentinel, Sparks Tribune and the Lincoln County Record.