Click here to watch Ranking Member Capito’s opening remarks from the committee hearing.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held its second hearing of the year on the need to substantively reform America’s broken permitting and environmental review processes.
On May 4, Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Ranking Member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, introduced two bills to streamline process for infrastructure, transportation, and energy projects, lower prices for consumers, and make it easier to build in America.
Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) as delivered.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank the three of you for being here today and for what you do every day for this country, appreciate that.
“We're holding this hearing today to discuss a priority for both of us and many of us: modernizing and improving America's permitting process.
“Americans are dealing now with rampant inflation, breakdowns in supply chains, and aging, inadequate infrastructure.
“They are struggling with higher costs and less reliable infrastructure to heat and cool their homes, keep the lights on, get to school and work.
“The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which was born out of this Committee, was designed to address many of these challenges, by funding the buildout of more road, bridge, drinking water, and wastewater projects, and making the United States less reliant on other countries to meet its basic needs.
“A year-and-a-half later, we are now seeing that implementation of that legislation, as well as that of the CHIPS and Science Act, and even legislation that I did not support, the Inflation Act, all running into the same challenges that have dogged infrastructure development for years.
“It comes as no surprise to those of us who have been in and around this space for a while, and that is why I have consistently called for statutory reforms to the federal environmental review and permitting processes, including most recently in the RESTART Act that I introduced two weeks ago joined by most of my Republican colleagues on this Committee.
“The processes have become a bureaucratic, confusing maze.
“Even if a project sponsor successfully makes it through, or even if they make it through three different times under administrations of both parties, as with the Mountain Valley Pipeline in my state, they often hit more roadblocks, litigation.
“Activists opposed to building any new projects are standing at the ready with a lawsuit to add further delays and costs in the hope of killing a project or inflicting so much pain that a project sponsor will give up, eliminating jobs, tax revenues, and economic resilience in the process.
“As even John Podesta, the president’s senior advisor, acknowledged at an event last week, ‘We got so good at stopping projects that we forgot how to build things in America. It’s been this way for a while.’
“The red tape, regulatory hurdles, and endless court battles faced by businesses slow and sometimes altogether stop critical projects.
“Ultimately, it is the American people who pay.
“We sometimes hear defenders of the broken system claim that “most” projects make it through the environmental review, permitting, and litigation just fine, but that torturing of the data sort of misses the point.
“The projects that are getting held up longest and Martha Williams mentioned this yesterday in her testimony, are those that are the most transformative and provide the most widespread benefits.
“These are the big-ticket projects, the ones that would provide affordable energy to a whole region of the country, create new construction jobs and permanent positions in manufacturing, or connect rural communities with new roads.
“Those aren’t examples pulled out of thin air.
“The Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Nucor steel mill, and Corridor H, are examples of each type of project being held up by bureaucracy or litigation, and those are just pulled from my home state.
“I want to thank all of you for coming here today, I look forward to hearing from them on their ideas.
“However, I am concerned that your agencies are at best beautifying the existing processes with nice-sounding policy pronouncements that do nothing, or are actively making the situation worse with more regulation and delay, disguised as guidance to avoid an actual rulemaking process.
“Despite its rhetoric and vested interest in seeing those investments succeed, I have not seen the administration do anything to actually address the challenges that I have outlined.
“More than a year ago, your three agencies announced a ‘Permitting Action Plan.’
“It then took your agencies ten months to release guidance, in the form of a 13-page memo, to begin to implement that plan.
“It took ten months to come up with a plan for the plan.
“Within a month after that memo was released, federal agencies were supposed to provide you with their own “Action Plans” to implement that guidance by April 5.
“Ms. Mallory, we talked about this on the phone the other day. I spoke with you about these documents. And you indicated that the administration does not intend to make those plans publicly available. I think it's important for us to hear what agencies have proposed to CEQ, OMB, and FPISC to improve the permitting process as we continue our legislative efforts.
“We’ve tried for years in prior infrastructure laws to solve these problems with increased coordination and aspirational timelines, but as we sit here today the problems persist and those solutions haven’t worked.
“That is why we need specific legislation, we cannot waste another year as delays, and high inflation all reduce the impact of these investments.
“To truly modernize our environmental review and permitting processes, we must actually amend the underlying statutes like NEPA, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
“We need enforceable deadlines on environmental reviews, not “goals” and soft aspirational schedules that can be changed on a whim by agencies that require constant oversight to achieve.
“Most importantly, we need to modernize these processes for all types of projects.
“Pitting renewable projects against fossil, pipelines against transmission, even different transportation projects against each other, will not strengthen our economy nor benefit our environment, but only lead to more political bickering in Congress and among industries jockeying to be favored in the process.
“From on-shoring new manufacturing and domestic critical mineral projects to roads, bridges, gas pipelines, transmission lines, our permitting problems affect all sectors of the economy, and therefore our international competitiveness and national security.
“Also, we need judicial reform to end the vicious cycle of projects being held in limbo by activists.
“We need lasting solutions that won’t shift between administrations and to do that, we must have a transparent committee process, which we have embarked on, and compromise on a bipartisan legislation, which we have done in the past and can do in the future.
“Now, I know that many issues in Congress have become increasingly partisan in recent years, but the need for environmental review and permitting modernization should not be.
“Both sides are watching their priorities get hung up in the process purgatory.
“This is an issue that should be approached with common sense and a bipartisan spirit. It is time for us to work together to find common ground and implement meaningful reforms to bring these processes up to date to address the challenges we face today.
“By working together, we can find solutions that benefit both our economy and our environment, while still ensuring that projects are held to high standards of safety and environmental protection.
“I look forward to hearing from our agency partners and my colleagues today on how we can achieve this together.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.”
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