Biden should cut red tape to unleash the green economy
At a ceremony in Pittsburgh tomorrow, President Biden will announce his sweeping $3 trillion plan to rebuild America’s aging infrastructure. The White House has said that the “Build Back Better” package will aim to revive American manufacturing, increase competitiveness with China and address the climate crisis. Yet, as Biden prepares to unveil his ambitious vision, he must realize that government bureaucracy is the biggest roadblock to green jobs and cleaner economy.
Biden, with his deep ties to unions and blue collar communities, worked hard on the campaign trail to present rebuilding America’s infrastructure as an opportunity to create millions of good-paying jobs and combat climate change. At tomorrow’s speech, physical infrastructure projects, including investments in roads and bridges, as well grid modernization and clean energy, will take center stage. While Biden is optimistic that his infrastructure package can overcome Republican opposition in Congress, actually breaking ground on physical infrastructure projects will require navigating miles of red tape.
Regulations that are supposed to protect the environment have hampered clean energy projects before. Take Vineyard Wind off the coast of Massachusetts, the largest proposed offshore wind energy project in the United States. Originally conceived of in 2009, the project has contested with a maze of federal, state and local environmental laws, and is only now set to deliver clean energy to 40,000 homes in 2023. If one single wind farm takes nearly 15 years from design to completion, the odds of the United States building the clean energy infrastructure necessary to meet our ambitious climate goals are next to none.
Burdensome regulation not only delays projects, it increases their cost. Many major projects, like new highways or energy infrastructure, automatically trigger laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). While accounting for environmental concerns is crucial, NEPA reviews can cost millions of dollars and take years to litigate. In New Mexico, a $25 million dollar retrofit of the Taos Regional Airport was delayed more than 20 years due to NEPA. Instead of going into the pockets of construction workers and tradesmen, excessive regulation siphons infrastructure dollars into the pockets of lawyers and regulatory compliance officers.
Last year, then-President Trump’s Council on Environmental Quality made long-overdue updates to NEPA, requiring that reviews and decisions be made in a timely manner. While Biden is eager to erase Trump’s environmental reforms, he should consider the fact that delays and higher costs imposed by regulations like NEPA will make it harder for America to build back better, along with others like the Jones Act and New Source Review.
America’s roads and bridges are in desperate need of repair, workers in the heartland are hungry for good-paying jobs, and without investment in everything from electric vehicle charging stations to the energy grid, we stand to lose the fight against climate change. Yet, after spending $1.9 trillion dollars on COVID-19 relief, Biden needs to make the case to Americans that shelling out $3 trillion dollars for his infrastructure plan is worth it.
Every American who has stood in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles knows that government isn’t the solution. But the millions of Americans who can now see their loved ones because of the public-private partnerships that produced the COVID-19 vaccine understand that smart government can help. Biden must assure Americans that under his leadership, the federal government is as willing to step out of the way as it is willing to lean in.
Rebuilding America’s infrastructure is a worthy investment. Yet, Biden’s infrastructure plan will be a smart investment only if he is willing to take the steps to relieve burdensome and costly regulations. To clear the way for green jobs and a clean economy, Biden must first bulldoze red tape.
Quill Robinson is the vice president of government affairs at the American Conservation Coalition, a limited-government, market-based environmental group.