Environmental Review Thrown Out By House Legislation

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The U.S. House of Representatives is serious about job creation.  So serious, in fact, that they are willing to sacrifice a healthy environment just so corporations have the “potential” to create new jobs without having to worry about all of that burdensome red tape that so often comes with environmental safety standards.

In a move last week, the House passed the Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act (RAPID Act – HR 2641), which will put hard deadlines on environmental reviews required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), typically carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Republicans in the House claimed that the bill was aimed at preventing the EPA from stalling projects that could create jobs for American citizens.  They said that environmental reviews, which are required by law, can hold projects up for years, and they believe that this is a cost that the economy simply cannot afford.  If signed into law, the bill will limit environmental reviews to a firm 18 months, with only 36 months to complete an environmental impact statement.

The White House indicated that, if the legislation were to reach the President’s desk, he would most certainly veto it.  The Hill quotes the White House as saying; “H.R. 2641 will increase litigation, regulatory delays, and potentially force agencies to approve a project if the review and analysis cannot be completed before the proposed arbitrary deadlines.”

The bill passed the House largely on party lines, with all Republican members and only 12 Democratic members voting in favor.  A provision of the bill will allow projects for which an environmental review could not be completed in time to receive automatic approval.  Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee proposed an amendment to strip this provision of the bill, but it failed to pass.

Another amendment, proposed by Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia, specifically prohibits regulatory agencies from considering “social costs of carbon” in their reviews.  This amendment passed and was included in the final bill.

The Republicans are not wrong in claiming that environmental reviews can hold up projects for years, but there are two very good reasons why this happens.

The first, and most obvious, is that performing reviews takes time.  Federal agencies have to consider the impacts to the environment, wildlife, and human life in construction and other projects, and these projections must include every possible worst-case scenario for the project in order for an honest debate to take place.

The second reason is that the EPA – the agency tasked with reviewing environmental impact statements before a project can be approved – has been attacked by politicians with gusto for the last few years.

Since 2010, the EPA’s budget has been slashed by at least 20%, forcing them to cut back on the number of regulators available to work on projects.  Fewer staff means longer wait times, and the irony is that the same party complaining about the wait times is the party that continuously votes to cut the agency’s funding

This legislation would allow projects like the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline to go forward with almost no time for a complete environmental review, which would have disastrous consequences for our environment and the public health. 

This piece of trash that they call a bill has nothing to do with creating jobs.  The only purpose that it serves is to show big business that Congress is still willing to do their bidding while the public is left to deal with the associated dangers.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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