NEPA Changes in the Water Resources Bill

NRDC has been working in an uphill fight to defend one of the iconic core environmental statutes: the National Environmental Policy Act.  The National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA, simply requires that large scale proposals that have the potential to environmentally impact federal resources are fully analyzed and disclosed.  Despite its commonsense underpinnings –  that citizens should have the right to know and comment on what the federal government is going to do or allow –  it has been blamed for a long list of horribles that are mostly fiction, becoming the punching bag for virtually every developer or city official at one time or other.

Our website lists some examples of important environmental improvements to projects that were made thanks to NEPA.

Despite, a flurry of comments to the contrary, short-circuiting the NEPA process will not get projects built any quicker. That is because the real cause of delay is funding, not NEPA. With a backlog of $60 billion in projects and annual funding stuck under $1.5 billion, the cause of delay is money, not environmental requirements.

NRDC had strong objections to the Senate Water Resources Development Act. (Its official name is the Water Resources Reform Development Act, but since we saw no “reforms” – just environmental rollbacks – we drop the word “reform”). Not surprisingly in this political climate, the House bill was even worse.

In the end, we are pleased that the Conference took the better language from the Senate and House bills that protect NEPA’s key provisions. In fact, the final bill, which should be signed into law soon, pretty much follows our recommendations to the Conference that I included in a blog, here.

The NEPA provisions are not positive; but they are better than what passed the very same committees in the last transportation bill.  I believe with the leadership of Senator Barbara Boxer(D-CA) and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY), we have turned the corner and Congress has concluded its rollbacks of this key environmental statute.