Congressional Leaders: Reject Request to Waive Environmental Laws in Stimulus Bill Transp. Projects
January 13, 2009
- American Lands Alliance - American Rivers - Audubon California - Breast Cancer Fund -California Coastkeeper Alliance - California League of Conservation Voters -California Native Plant Society - California Watershed Coalition - Center for Biological Diversity - Earthjustice - Defenders of Wildlife -Environment America - Environment California - Environmental Defense Fund -Food and Water Watch - Forests Forever - Greenpeace -League of Conservation Voters - National Audubon Society -National Parks Conservation Association -National Trust for Historic Preservation - Natural Resources Defense Council -National Wildlife Federation - Northern Alaska Environmental Center -Physicians for Social Responsibility - Southern Environmental LawCenter -The Center for Food Safety - The Lands Council - The Nature Conservancy -The Trust for PublicLand - The Wilderness Society -
January 13, 2009
The Honorable Nancy Pelosi The Honorable Harry Reid
Speaker of the House Senate Majority Leader
U.S. House of Representatives U.S. Senate
Washington, DC 20515 Washington, DC 20510
The Honorable James Oberstar The Honorable Barbara Boxer
Chairman, House Transportation Chairman, Senate Committee on Environment and Infrastructure Committee Public Works
As you prepare to consider economic stimulus legislation, the undersigned organizations want to
underscore how past experience has shown that a key to good long-range development decisions is the high quality information provided via the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for projects funded and authorized by the federal government. Securing an effective economic boost, sustainable growth, revitalized infrastructure, and a cleaner, safer planet necessitates a real understanding of the consequences of stimulus investments. Part of the investment our Nation makes in economic recovery must therefore be an investment in smart and open decision-making.
NEPA is the federal government’s guarantee that the pros and cons of, and alternative approaches to, its investments and actions will be thoughtfully considered and informed by the best available scientific and factual information. It also ensures that your constituents will be able to understand and get orderly input into stimulus decisions. Inevitably, in the course of congressional consideration, special interests will assert that we cannot afford the NEPA process in a time of national urgency. The truth is that we cannot afford that kind of leap-before-you-look rashness. We have neither the time nor the resources to waste on measures that ultimately prove to be unproductive or harmful. Our members, like the American public as a whole, want to be sure that the prudent and knowledgeable approach of NEPA is integrated into all federal stimulus projects that affect the human environment.
To help achieve this outcome, projects eligible for funding under the stimulus should have all necessary state and federal environmental reviews in hand, including NEPA and other environmental and historical resource reviews, before commencing. Among State and local government-provided projects that could be funded under the package are many “shovel ready” proposals that have already completed environmental reviews. For example, Tennessee’s Department of Transportation notes that its entire list of $1.7 billion in stimulus projects includes only projects that have completed all needed environmental studies and obtained necessary permits. Similarly, Georgia submitted a list of $3 billion worth of projects that have passed environmental review and received all necessary permits. California has billions of dollars worth of sustainable projects that have completed environmental review - projects to restore delta levees, invest in a clean energy future, improve stormwater management, expand transit and more.
Previous stimulus legislation passed by the United States House of Representatives but ultimately not enacted (HR 7110), may serve as a model for the upcoming package. While it did require projects to meet a “shovel ready” timeframe, it did not alter NEPA requirements. The same must especially be true of the forthcoming stimulus package, conceived of as a green recovery vehicle that provides us with clean energy, building retrofits to achieve greater efficiency, and mass transit.
To promote timely decision-making, an important part of the economic investment that Congress makes should be in the capacity of federal and state agencies, and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to expedite their NEPA responsibilities. Federal agencies and CEQ have in recent years lost staff and budgets needed to fulfill their NEPA roles. Supplementation of their resources would reap major benefits in having projects approved and underway quickly.
It is important that projects with potentially significant environmental impacts go through state environmental review and the NEPA process in order to ensure that the best alternatives are considered, all potential impacts are fully known, and the public can have confidence that their government is proceeding in a manner that is optimal, safe, and transparent.
Thank you for your leadership on this critical issue,