With President Obama’s recent snub to the KeystoneXL Pipeline, its worth looking at the extensive process that businesses must already go through to ensure that our industrial creations don’t have too significant of a negative impact on the environment. Conn Caroll of The Washington Examiner notes that the National Environmental Protection Act is often nothing more than a venue for environmentalists to delay projects with lawsuits:
The United States Chamber of Commerce last year studied 351 privately funded energy infrastructure projects (like coal plants, wind farms or power lines) that were either delayed or canceled because of permitting problems, the vast majority of which came from NEPA.
According to the chamber, the delay or cancellation of these projects cost the U.S. economy $577 billion in direct investment and more than 1.9 million jobs.
Environmental activists have become adept at using the law to fight other projects too, like a supercomputer lab in Berkeley, Calif., light rail in Honolulu, and a water pipeline in Colorado.
“NEPA has become a tool activists use to fight projects,” Brigham McCown, former acting administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, tells The Washington Examiner. “It is like a filibuster. It allows one group to hold the process hostage.”
McCown worked at the Department of Transportation when activists used NEPA to force one of the largest environmental reviews in history before the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented. The dispute went all the way to the Supreme Court (the plaintiffs are still fighting DOT over NAFTA today on other grounds).
Federal agencies should consider the environmental impacts of their decisions. But the current NEPA framework makes it too easy for activists to shut down or delay any economic activity they find objectionable. Republicans should take Keystone as an opportunity to force major NEPA reforms that will restore some equity to the process.
While Obama pretended to “agree” with the State Department’s conclusions regarding the Keystone Pipeline, its quite obvious that this decision was handed down from the Obama Administration with emphasis on the result this decision would have on his 2012 re-election prospects, at the expense of America’s energy security and economy.
As Caroll mentions, the State Department received an application to build the pipeline in 2008, and have been considering it since then. The “we need more time” excuse is a canard, and shouldn’t be taken seriously. If Congress is serious about getting the economy going, a reform of the NEPA should be considered, one that allows for a continuation of our environmental stewardship while returning property rights decisions to those who own the property, and avoiding frivolous lawsuits from NIMBYs and environmentalists who oppose all sorts of industrial projects.