The National Environmental Policy Act is a federal law few people have heard about, but one we pay for whether we know it or not.

Last month, the Council on Environmental Quality announced a proposal to modernize the 50-year-old law to streamline federal permitting of infrastructure projects. Gov. Doug Burgum supports the reform saying “…the 40-year-old NEPA process has become increasingly complex, cumbersome and time-consuming, resulting in unnecessary, multi-year delays and cost increases for key infrastructure projects including highways, pipelines and critical flood protection.”

Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said “Agriculture has been largely impacted by NEPA. Ranchers have had to wait for years to execute a managed grazing plan until environmental impact statements were done.”

Sounds like a good thing.

But, once again, environmental activist groups have attacked the proposal. Not known for understatement, Gina McCarthy, CEO of Natural Resources Defense Council and former EPA administrator, said “…While our world is burning, President Trump is adding fuel to the fire by taking away our right to be informed and to protect ourselves from irreparable harm.”

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Seems like the two sides do not agree. So what is NEPA?

NEPA, signed into law in 1970, requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impact of public infrastructure projects like roads and dams, and also certain use and development of private property. Most of us agree that environmental considerations are important in analyzing infrastructure projects and support the goal of NEPA.

The regulations for NEPA were completed in 1978 and have not been revised since. But that does not mean that the law has not evolved. Through environmental activism and the shrewd use of federal courts, NEPA has developed into bureaucracy that increases the time and cost of important, and needed, infrastructure projects.

According to the Council on Environmental Quality, it takes over four years to complete an environmental impact statement, much longer for many projects, adding millions of dollars to the cost of each project. Highway projects that cross lands controlled by different federal agencies require a separate environmental impact statement for each agency. Increasing costs, both in time and money, that we all pay for.


No one is talking about repealing this environmental protection; the proposal to streamline the NEPA process simply calls for a 2-year timeline for environmental studies, down from the current four, or more, years.

We have all heard about our crumbling roads and bridges. We have seen the destruction caused by wildfires in the west. The current NEPA process stands in the way of needed projects and improvements.

Addressing the very real impact of NEPA on wildfires, Jason Hayes, director of environmental policy at The Mackinac Center for Public Policy, said “Effectively locked out of the nation’s forests by litigation and procedural delays, we all watch as millions of acres burn, people and wildlife are displaced or killed, and billions in public and private property are lost each year.”

In other words, in the four or five years it takes to complete a study on the potential impacts of forest management projects, we watch the very real environmental, personal and economic impacts of devastating fires. Year after year. Maybe NEPA should be renamed Nero.