Last week, the Trump administration proposed significant improvements to how agencies implement one of the most important laws you’ve never heard of: the National Environmental Policy Act. Passed in 1970, “NEPA” requires federal agencies to conduct extensive environmental impact studies before they do virtually anything that could have a significant impact on the environment. That includes everything from Forest Service management plans to federal funds for major highway projects to the permits that agencies issue for pipelines and coal mines.
Under a Carter-era regulation, NEPA has grown into a behemoth of red tape. Environmental reviews average 4.5 years, and seven years for highway projects—just to produce a single Environmental Impact Statement (or “EIS”). That’s years of bureaucratic process before a single bulldozer breaks ground. Of course, the resulting EISs often run into the thousands of pages.