House votes to limit environmental reviews

The House on Thursday approved the latest Republican plan to jumpstart job creation — a bill that would set hard deadlines on environmental reviews that can delay construction projects for years.

Members passed the Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act, or the RAPID Act, in a 229-179 vote.

Like so many other deregulatory bills, several Democrats spoke against it but 12 ended up voting for the bill with Republicans.

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The bill is an answer to the Republican complaint that environmental reviews required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) can sometimes take years, and sometimes more than a decade. In 2012, the House heard testimony noting that the Hoover Dam was built in five years, and the Empire State Building was built in about 13 months — times that are shorter than the duration of some NEPA reviews.

Republicans stressed that their bill would not require approval of these projects, but simply put deadlines in place to ensure NEPA reviews don't drag on forever.

"Most significantly, the RAPID Act sets hard deadlines, including an 18-month maximum deadline for an environmental assessment, and a 36-month maximum deadline for an environmental impact statement," said Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.). He also noted it would impose a 180-day limit on lawsuits related to permitting decisions, saying both changes would help promote job creation by speeding up the approval process.

"In an economy in which the labor force participation rate has reached record lows, there is little more urgent jobs legislation that Congress could pass than the RAPID Act," he said.

Most Democrats opposed the bill as another attack against environmental restrictions on public works projects. Democrats raised the possibility that projects will be approved too quickly, which could lead to legal and environmental problems, and more delays, down the road.

"Contrary to the bill's short title, H.R. 2641 would result in confusion and delay in the review and permitting process for certain construction projects," said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.).

In its Wednesday veto threat, the White House agreed with Johnson's assessment.

"H.R. 2641 will increase litigation, regulatory delays, and potentially force agencies to approve a project if the review and analysis cannot be completed before the proposed arbitrary deadlines," it said.

The GOP bill is one of several leaders brought to the floor this week as a package aimed at reducing the cost of energy in the country. Earlier in the week, the House passed a bill to extend driving hours for truckers who haul home heating fuel around the country.

Before the final vote, members passed two Republican amendments, and rejected three Democratic proposals, from:

— Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), eliminating a provision that deems as approved any project for which an agency doesn't meet the deadlines in the bill. Failed 180-228.

— David McKinley (R-W.Va.), prohibiting agencies from considering the "social cost of carbon" in project analyses. Passed 222-188.

— Daniel Webster (R-Fla.), ensuring that current projects are captured by the legislation once enacted. Accepted in voice vote.

— Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), exempting from the bill any construction site for a nuclear facility being built in areas that are designated as an earthquake fault zone. Failed 187-220.

— Johnson, ensuring nothing in the bill limits public comment or participation in a decision-making process. Failed 192-217.