WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW) held a hearing entitled, “Oversight of the Council on Environmental Quality.” Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to welcome Ms. Neumayr and thank her for appearing before us this morning for this important oversight hearing on the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ).
“Ms. Neumayr, during your confirmation process, you made commitments to members of this Committee, including me, on a number of critical environmental concerns. We are grateful for this opportunity to check-in on those issues, as well as to discuss several others.
“Specifically, you committed that, under your leadership, CEQ would support federal planning and preparation for extreme weather events. I look forward to hearing an update on that, as well as on the status of CEQ greenhouse gas emissions guidance for federal agencies.
“However, since your confirmation, I have been disappointed to hear statements from this Administration undermining climate science and particularly, to learn that CEQ may be helping to block commonsense climate actions – such as ratification of the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol – which would bring with it substantial job creation and economic growth here in America. These developments are very disappointing. The Fourth National Climate Assessment was crystal clear: if we do not act quickly and boldly, climate change will continue to wreak havoc even more on our nation’s infrastructure, on public health and on economic growth.
“As you know, part of CEQ’s mission is to coordinate federal actions to address cross-cutting environmental issues like climate change and resilience. Our nation’s transportation system is far too energy-intensive and vulnerable to our new climate reality.
“CEQ should be laser-focused on coordinating federal actions to reduce greenhouse gases and making sure our nation’s infrastructure is built to withstand climate change’s impacts, including through the NEPA process. Instead of fulfilling these obligations, this Administration has largely revoked all climate resiliency and mitigation actions taken by the previous Administration and is focused on NEPA streamlining.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: We can’t streamline our way to more funding. Neither can we streamline our way to a healthier climate. In fact, the wrong types of environmental streamlining could make our already dire situation even worse. As our Committee and this Administration focus on surface transportation reauthorization efforts, it is important to dispel the notion that NEPA is the main impediment to infrastructure development.
“In fact, the non-partisan General Accountability Office and the Congressional Research Service have documented that 96 percent of projects approved by the Federal Highway Administration are categorically excluded from the NEPA process. Think about that. According to GAO and CRS, 96 percent of projects approved by the Federal Highway Administration are categorically excluded from the NEPA process.
“The projects that do trigger NEPA do so because those projects have potential environmental impacts to communities that may last for decades and – possibly – for centuries. Study after study has shown that it’s not NEPA, but rather a lack of funding, that is the primary cause of project delays.
“Nevertheless, environmental streamlining has been a part of every highway bill in the last twenty years. At minimum, there were 10 streamlining and flexibility provisions in the 1998 highway bill; 10 provisions in 2005; 23 provisions in 2012; and 28 provisions in the FAST Act that were only implemented last year.
“So, as we use and evaluate the existing streamlining provisions that we’ve already enacted, let’s collect better data to find out which of them are working and which are not. We should also focus on fixing something that we know is delaying projects and that is causing significant reductions in both staffing and NEPA training opportunities. Let’s make sure the agencies that protect our environment have the resources to do just that.
“Last year, CEQ published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking regarding NEPA regulations. The questions posed in this rulemaking touch on every aspect of the NEPA process and signal an openness to redefining crucial NEPA terms that help make the law effective.
“Ms. Neumayr, during your confirmation process you committed to a public engagement process that would allow for significant feedback, commensurate with the scope of this rulemaking. I have not yet heard how CEQ plans to make this a reality, but I look forward to hearing about it soon.
“Let me close this morning with a couple of quotes from former President Richard Nixon. The first can be found in his remarks when he signed the National Environmental Protection Act into law in 1970. He said that day, ‘Once the damage is done, it is much harder to turn around.’ He also said a few years later, ‘The only people who don’t make mistakes are people who don’t do anything.’ Climate change and extreme weather are real. We need to do something about them now. Not as Democrats or Republicans or Independents, but as Americans.
“Time is not on our side. More than ever we need to move forward and we need to do so in a bipartisan way in order to ensure that our infrastructure is built for the long haul and that we’re not throwing good money after bad. I’m hoping that this hearing will better inform our efforts so that the steps we take will help ensure that our children and grandchildren have a truly bright future here on Planet Earth, the only planet that most of us will ever know.
“Thank you, again, Mr. Chairman.”