Environmental advocates face a similar paradox as deficit hawks. The actions that bring short-term economic benefits create long-term harm, either from the fiscal fallout of excessive borrowing or the carbon emitted from industrial activity.
Political horizons often are limited to the next election, resulting in a powerful incentive to maintain the status quo, regardless of the consequences. On the climate side, environmentalists argue that something has changed, that the peril of a warming planet moves this issue from one of long-term planning to short-term urgency.
This is why it’s so perplexing to see strong opposition to an overhaul of National Environmental Policy Act rules. Environmentalists demand urgent action on climate change, but on these cumbersome rules, they’re willing to take the air out of the ball.
It’s hard to argue in favor of government reviews that sometimes take more than a decade, but these advocates of the status quo do just that. This became apparent last week, after President Donald Trump proposed the first comprehensive change to the National Environmental Policy Act rules in more than 40 years.
Under new permit rules, which are subject to public hearings, the government would set limits for the the completion of environmental reviews. Full impact statements would need to be completed within two years, while less comprehensive assessments would need to be finished in less than a year.
Energy companies, business groups and construction unions praised the move as a key to cutting red tape and jump-starting infrastructure development in the United States. Environmental groups promised lawsuits and said faster project approvals will result in increased greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
All of this is predictable and amusing to those of us who don’t work under deadlines that extend longer than two years. Reasonable people operate under the belief that man-made climate change is real, that addressing it doesn’t have to plunge the world into a new dark age and that a government bureaucrat can complete an environmental impact study in 24 months.
This is a debate that has a real impact in places like St. Joseph because these reviews, which come under the NEPA acronym, don’t just address energy pipelines, logging operations and electric generating plants. These reviews bog down everything from bridges to airport construction, including a two-decade assessment for a new runway at the international airport in Seattle.
In St. Joseph, the future of the Interstate 229 bridge has been subject to a NEPA review since February of 2018. How long is too long for this bridge?