If you want to build it, streamline environmental regulations
By Rep. Ken Calvert (CA-42)
This column originally ran in the Washington Times on April 21, 2021.
Money is the default answer in our nation’s capital to virtually every problem. After a year of record-breaking federal spending and dollars overflowing from every federal office in town, this has never been more evident. As our national debt soars, it’s vital that we seek out solutions that don’t involve Uncle Sam’s checkbook. Across the nation and in Washington, D.C., there continues to be widespread, bipartisan support for building infrastructure and improving the physical foundations that will support our communities into the future. The drumbeat to build that infrastructure is unyielding because growth is constantly outpacing our ability to build what’s necessary to sustain it. While the availability of funding is certainly one factor, in far too many places the regulatory structures in place are the biggest impediments to making projects shovel-ready. In my California district, which includes the fast-growing western edge of Riverside County, a project to expand Interstate 15 by adding lanes in available space in the median of the highway will require at least five years to complete the environmental regulatory permitting requirements. Keep in mind the impacted land consists largely of overgrown weeds and dirt between highway lanes far from anything one would consider sensitive habitat or natural resources. As the years tick away while federal and state environmental compliance work continues, our region continues to grow. When the permits are finally in hand, it will only take a fraction of the time that was required to complete the regulatory red-tape to actually construct the project. If you take the example above and apply that broken model to energy, water, and other types of infrastructure projects proposed in communities across the country, you can begin to grasp why the United States is falling behind. Our broken regulatory approval system costs both time and money, while also presenting a major drag on our global economic competitiveness. The good news is, if we can muster the political will and reject the predictable objections from special interest groups who have built a parasitic business model that’s reliant upon these regulatory schemes, we have the opportunity to reduce both the time and cost of infrastructure projects without piling on to our national debt. Environmental regulatory streamlining would stretch limited infrastructure dollars even further and help us finally keep pace with growth. In the House of Representatives, I have introduced legislation, the Reducing Environmental Barriers to Unified Infrastructure and Land Development or REBUILD Act (H.R. 644) which would reduce the cost and speed up the construction of infrastructure projects while maintaining strong environmental protections. The REBUILD Act acknowledges the reality that many states, like California, often have environmental regulatory laws that are duplicative and more onerous than corresponding federal statutes. In those instances, my bill would allow for state environmental permitting process reciprocity and remove federal red-tape when state regulatory permits achieve the same goals. The REBUILD Act is modeled after a pilot program authorized by Congress more than a decade ago that reduced the length of time to complete a project review by an average of 17 months while also ensuring the goals of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process were not compromised. A growing number of Americans and advocacy organizations are coming to the realization that avoidable delays in building infrastructure pose a serious threat to our goals. In addition to hindering our ability to compete in the global marketplace with nations like China, the web of environmental regulations have even ironically slowed down renewable energy projects. As we move to clean our air and react to climate change, these delays will make it even more challenging to meet desired standards. I’m hopeful that a collective push by a growing constituency can overcome the entrenched bureaucracy that has protected the status quo for decades. Let’s put away the checkbook for once and take out the scissors to cut some red-tape to build projects faster and cheaper.
U.S. Representative Ken Calvert represents the 42nd Congressional District where, as dean of the state’s Republican Delegation, his legislative priorities include creating longterm solutions to California’s water challenges and reducing building time on infrastructure projects by making commonsense, bipartisan reforms to our environmental laws. He serves on the Appropriations Committee as Ranking Member of the Defense Subcommittee and on the Energy and Water Subcommittee.