by Chris Gacek
January 12, 2009
A recent Los Angeles Times article makes clear that President Obama’s enormous stimulus/spending plan may run into a huge GREEN roadblock - the nation’s environmental laws and, in particular, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA was signed into law on January 1, 1970, and as Wikipedia puts it: “NEPA’s most significant effect was to set up procedural requirements for all federal government agencies to prepare Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs). EAs and EISs contain statements of the environmental effects of proposed federal agency actions.” If significant environmental effects are found, the government has to propose adequate ways of mitigating the harms to be caused by the project. Spending vast sums on construction, roadway, and other infrastructure projects are certainly going trigger NEPA reviews.
To spur jobs Governor Schwazenegger is attempting to clear environmental hurdles to various road projects that he believes “would give the state a $1.2 billion economic boost and create 22,000 jobs over the next three years.” The Governator wants to bypass environmental objections to get the projects moving. In doing so, he “has infuriated the Sierra Club and other groups with such proposals and with a letter he sent to President-elect Barack Obama last week asking that federal environmental reviews be waived on the highway projects.” (my emphasis)
As I read this, Schawarzenegger wants the Obama administration to waive the NEPA requirements. California’s request here is understandable, and if President Obama wants his stimulus explosion to effect the economy quickly, the Congress, the president, and the primary federal agencies for each “action” may need to waive these laws. Otherwise, each project could get bogged down. As Schwarzenegger noted, ” ‘What is important here is not to have projects ready [ ] three years from now, which can happen with the environmental approvals and other kind of red tape that you go through.’”
Having some familiarity with NEPA and related laws, I was beginning to wonder how its requirements were going to be met if the Obama Administration decided to seek a crash building & spending program. Well, the article from California makes it abundantly clear that environmental regulation of the stimulus spending is going to be a real problem that the Congress will probably have to address statutorily.