The United States seems incapable of developing modern infrastructure, despite bipartisan support for that goal. Since 2008, China has built more than 15,000 miles of high-speed rail, while the U.S. has built none and is unlikely to do so anytime soon. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ most recent report card, the U.S. scores a D+ on infrastructure.
Environmental review plays a major role in America’s infrastructure paralysis. As a consequence of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA), “major Federal actions” that could “significantly affect” the human environment must be accompanied by an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)—a process that often takes years. Between 2010 and 2017, the Department of Transportation completed 170 EISs, taking an average of six and a half years each. In the EIS preparation stage, no groundbreaking or other work can occur, a restriction that applies both to federal projects and to private ones that require federal permits. When a private project needs a federal permit, the burden to perform the environmental review usually falls on the private entity.