Portman: Biden Administration’s New NEPA Rule is Wrong Approach in Face of Soaring Inflation

August 2, 2022 | Portman Difference

At a press conference yesterday, Senator Portman (R-OH) discussed his support for S.J. Res. 55, a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), to nullify the Biden administration’s new regulation, “National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Implementing Regulations Revisions”. These regulations, authored by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), undermine important provisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act intended to streamline key elements of our broken federal permitting process. Senator Portman served as the chief Republican negotiator for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act which invested hundreds of billions of dollars in repairing, upgrading, and modernizing our nation’s roads, bridges, ports, and included Portman’s Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act to make FAST-41 permanent, improve the federal permitting process for some of the largest infrastructure projects, and build on efforts to update this process created in 2015.

A transcript of his remarks can be found below and a video can be found here.

“Well said, Shelley. So, I want to start by thanking Senator Sullivan for his leadership on this and in permitting, generally, because he has understood that America needs to be able to be competitive globally and that the ability to greenlight a project in this country is harder than it is in almost all of our competitors. And, we’ve fallen behind, continually. About 11 years ago, I first got involved in this from a legislative perspective and I’ve got the scars to show it. It’s always been bipartisan, but it’s always been tough. We were able to get the FAST-41 so-called, which was a provision in the last highway bill, which helped in terms of permitting. We were able to get the permitting council up and going. The permitting council looks at projects and speeds up the time frame. And, as Senator Capito said so well, it’s not about not having environmental reviews, it’s being sure the environmental reviews are done in a responsible way.

“And, by the way, that’s something the Trump administration added to with their NEPA rule which said that you need to have ‘reasonably foreseen’ environmental issues, which, you know, that’s certainly reasonable. And then, the Biden administration came in and pulled the rug out from under these projects all around the country. So, clearly, this is a huge problem for our country. And, again, we have made some progress here in Congress, but this NEPA rule that the Biden administration has put out is going exactly in the opposite direction. So, finally, we were getting these projects greenlighted. We were helping in terms of the construction workers, who are on that list of 50, who have been always supportive. The AFL-CIO Building Trades Council has been our friend on this forever. Also, we worked with some environmental groups to come up, again, with this balanced approach, but now that balance has been shifted.

“It’s interesting because I first got involved in this because of a hydropower project, a green project, a hydropower plant on the Ohio River that was taking forever to get permitted. The metropolitan utility group came to me and said, ‘Gosh, can’t you help us on our permitting?’ But this is true generally all around the country. This is affecting green energy projects as well as affecting highway projects. It’s affecting wind farms. It’s affecting solar farms. It’s affecting the energy business generally. It’s affecting what we just did in terms of providing all this funding for high-tech manufacturing in America. These same chip plants, the so-called fabs that make semiconductors are going to be affected by this. So, on the one hand, we’re saying we want to encourage more projects in this country, we want to get ourselves in a situation where we’re not losing ground to other countries around the world that have much better permitting rules. On the other hand, the Biden administration does this, which runs counter to everything that we’ve been promoting, again, on a bipartisan basis, not with many Democrats, but with enough to get it done.

“The final thing that I want to say is we are living in a time of really high inflation. For those of you in this room, you’ve never seen inflation like this. For those of us who have a few more grey hairs, we’ve seen it, but it’s been forty years. And, people back home are just dying under the pressure of inflation. It’s not just the price at the pump. It’s food. It’s their ability to buy clothes. It’s their ability to pay their rent. I mean, everything is going up. This is going to add to inflation. Why? It’s very simple. Inflation is about demand and supply being mismatched, right? And, the supply is about things like projects, like a pipeline for natural gas to move it from the Marcellus and Utica fields in Ohio to the coast so that we can have liquefied natural gas. That’s part of the supply side is to, as an example, to be able to have energy in this country to be able to get the costs down.

“This actually runs counter to that. So, it’s wrong for so many reasons, but one is, specifically, right now while we’re trying so hard to figure out how do we get out of this inflationary spiral, we’ve got to do something, which the FED is doing something on the demand side, much better to do it on the supply side, and for us, instead, to be going the other way with this NEPA rule and to make it even harder. Instead of taking four years, taking six years to permit some simple projects, including environmentally important projects to those on the other side, it just makes no sense whatsoever. So, I appreciate the fact that we’re going to have the opportunity to speak on this, to vote on it. And, I hope my colleagues on the other side of the aisle look at this carefully, and let’s do end up with reasonable permitting reforms. If we do that, we’ll be able to move this country forward and be able to reduce the inflationary pressures we’re feeling now.

“Quickly, because Dan mentioned infrastructure, he’s absolutely right. As you know, I helped negotiate that, as did others here, including Senator Capito in a big way, and we insisted on having permitting reform be part of it. And, what this will do is it will reverse the progress we had hoped to make on a number of things that actually helps in terms of the environment. Think of traffic congestion. So, everyone will tell you there are more CO2 emissions when you have a traffic jam than when the traffic is running smoothly, and that’s one reason, in the infrastructure bill, we’re trying to encourage more development of our travel infrastructure, transit infrastructure, including mass transit, including other things. That all takes longer now.

“Think about reforestation. You know, one thing the infrastructure bill has is 1.2 billion new trees on the National Forest, as an example. That’s going to take longer. Some of the reforestation projects have to do with erosion and other things that require this NEPA review.

“Think about the environmental projects we had talked about earlier, not just solar and win, but think about the infrastructure for electric cars. That’s in that legislation, some $7.5 billion. That’s going to take longer. So, it actually runs counter to the infrastructure legislation that we just passed. And, this is one thing that I feel is, in a way, pulling the rug out from under us after we had worked with the White House, worked with Democrats on both sides of the Capitol to come up with something that would help us move forward on infrastructure.

“Finally, I will say, it’s not just the indirect costs, it’s not just the cumulative costs, it’s the upstream and downstream costs. And, I think that’s very difficult to analyze and I think it gives regulators a huge opportunity to take their discretion and determine what, as an example, downstream costs might be. So, if you have a natural gas pipeline running through my state of Ohio, or any of these pipelines these guys have talked about, by the way, it’s relatively clean fossil fuel, it’s needed right now, and everybody acknowledges that, and it goes across the stream. Under the old NEPA rules, you would look at the impact of that stream, and you should. And that was, you know, reasonably foreseen was the way the Trump administration talked about it, as an example. Now, it’s not just about that stream or it’s not just about that project in effect. It’s about where is that pipeline going to go and will it result in more fossil fuels being used, and, therefore, will it have an impact on the climate, and, therefore, should a regulator not approve that project? I think that’s the issue, in a nutshell, as I can see it.”