Road and bridge repair won't happen without permit reform

Road and bridge repair won't happen without permit reform
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump says 'Failing New York Times' should be held 'fully accountable' over Russia report Trump tweets ICE will begin removing 'millions' of undocumented migrants MORE's plan to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure is not only needed, it opens the door for Congress to take bold steps to rollback thousands of burdensome government regulations and revamp a national permitting process now mired in bureaucracy and inefficiency.

Any effort to rebuild our country’s roads, bridges, tunnels, energy and manufacturing sectors without substantive permitting reform is like NASA announcing plans to build a space station on Mars with no astronauts, money or rockets.

Reforming a bureaucratic regulatory/permitting process is crucial for the president’s infrastructure rebuilding plan to be successful.

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If we are to see President Trump’s infrastructure plan implemented as quickly as possible, Congress must work with the president to reform regulations contained in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

 

NEPA contains thousands of pages of rules, regulations and red tape which cause years of needless delays in construction projects, energy facilities, factories and manufacturing centers across the nation.

President Obama discovered the harsh reality of our nation’s permitting quagmire when he talked about creating, “shovel-ready jobs” during his administration. 

In 2011, President Obama touted the new Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati as an example of a project that would help stimulate economic growth and create jobs. But construction on the bridge wouldn’t start for another four years, and the project won’t be completed until 2022.

NEPA and many other unnecessary environmental regulations stifle both traditional energy projects as well as those deemed environmentally friendly or “green” projects. Yes, it is apparently just as difficult to build a wind farm in the U.S. as it is to expand a natural gas facility.

In fact, roughly 45 percent of the challenged projects that were identified are renewable energy projects. According to land management officials, even an expedited Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) can take three to five years, which is why there are few energy projects located on public land regardless of the wishes of Congress or the president.

The Department of Energy says our solar power industry will never become competitive until “soft costs” come down. “Soft costs” are expenses associated with permitting, financing and inspection and cost 40-50 percent of the overall costs the solar industry pays to produce products.

A recent report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Project No Project found that successful construction of 351 projects around the country, all in varying stages of permitting delays, could produce a $1.1-trillion boost to the economy and create 1.9 million jobs annually.

Moreover, these facilities, once constructed, would continue to generate jobs because they would operate for years or even decades.

A 2015 report by the think tank Common Good found that a six-year delay in construction on public projects costs the nation over $3.7 trillion, including the costs of prolonged inefficiencies and unnecessary pollution. This figure is more than double the $1.7 trillion needed through the end of this decade to modernize America’s decaying infrastructure.

The raising of the roadway for the Bayonne Bridge project connecting New Jersey and New York went through a five-year process that included a 10,000-page environmental assessment — all part of the NEPA process. The dredging at the Port of Savannah in Georgia has been stalled for almost 30 years; the environmental review alone took 14 years.

The permitting process is getting worse with the length of Environmental Impact Studies growing by an average of 110 days each year. The average time to complete an environmental impact statement increased from 2.2 years in the 1970s to 8.1 years in 2011. At present, 148 energy and transit projects are stalled in NEPA review, tying up nearly $230 billion in private investment.

President Trump hopes to cut lengthy permitting delays to two years or less. Congress can follow the president’s lead by enacting permitting reforms that shape the scope of reviews for construction and industry projects by eliminating redundancies among competing government agencies, ensuring scientific transparency and integrity in the review, narrowing the process to only those projects with major environmental concerns and imposing reasonable time limits.

The biggest inhibitors to repairing our dilapidated infrastructure are government regulations and faceless bureaucrats who have no accountability to the American people. President Trump has given us a roadmap to eliminating these needless barriers.

Now, it’s time for Congress to work with the president to rebuild America’s infrastructure, starting first with massive permitting reforms to allow this much-needed revitalization to occur.

Ken Blackwell is a former Mayor of Cincinnati, undersecretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and is author of the book, "Rebuilding America."