Review of Transportation Projects under the
National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
In an effort to accelerate transportation project delivery, some have suggested further "streamlining" of the environmental review process. Streamlining, however, is often the code word for steamrolling the environmental review process. Although these proposed streamlining measures are presented as efforts to increase efficiency, they are frequently only thinly veiled attempts to chip away at America’s environmental protections. Recently, several different proposals to weaken the NEPA environmental review process of transportation projects have surfaced. Some of the most egregious proposals include:
Suggested Change: Give the primary power over the review process to the federal bureaucrats - taking it away from the state, regional and local levels.
Reality: Participation in the review process by state, regional and local governments helps ensure that projects balance the interests of all parties affected and incorporates mitigation strategies appropriate for the area. Reducing the role of these bodies could result in greater delays and increased conflicts.
Suggested Change: Grant broad exemptions from NEPA review.
Reality: This authority to exclude any range and number of projects from environmental review (categorical exclusions) will reduce public involvement, and curtail the public’s right to know about the effect of decisions before they are made.
Suggested Change: Impose arbitrary deadlines that allow much shorter periods of time for agencies to conduct their review.
Reality: These deadlines do not allow agencies sufficient time to fully consider the major questions of impacts a project will have which are revealed throughout the NEPA process.
Suggested Change: Eliminate goals such as equity and environmental stewardship from the objectives of transportation projects.
Reality: Transportation projects affect communities and the environments we live in, removing these considerations from the review process could have devastating consequences.
Suggested Change: Curtail the judicial review process by reducing the time the public has to challenge decisions made by transportation agencies, restricting the admissibility of evidence, or elevating appeals to a federal court of appeals more rapidly.
Reality: These changes place unfair burdens on entities challenging decisions made by transportation agencies, and seek to handcuff the courts' authority.
Most delays, 67 percent, in transportation projects are caused by lack of funding, local support and project complexity --not by environmental review. More expedient project delivery – and better projects -- can be realized through more sensible planning, early stakeholder involvement and simply taking advantage of existing programs.
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