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 a hearing to review the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) work under Chair Brenda Mallory’s leadership.
On Monday, Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) wrote an op-ed for the Washington Examiner detailing how the Biden administration’s rollback of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review and permitting reforms not only delays infrastructure buildout following the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure law, but also hinders the administration’s own energy goals. Click here to read the op-ed.
Below is the opening statement of Ranking Member Capito, as prepared for delivery.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman Carper, for holding today’s hearing to conduct oversight of the Council on Environmental Quality, known as CEQ. And thank you for coming to be here with us today, chair.
“I know both you and I were so proud of the committee’s monumental accomplishment of developing and reporting surface transportation and drinking and wastewater legislation unanimously last year.
“And, we were also very proud when those bills became law at the end of last year as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
“And soon, hopefully the WRDA legislation, which this committee unanimously approved just last week will join IIJA into law.
“A top priority for all of us now on the committee should be to make sure the programs and authorizations we carefully negotiated move from being words on a page to projects on the ground.
“If IIJA is implemented as Congress intended, we will develop modern roads and bridges to connect rural communities, critical water infrastructure projects to create access to clean water, improvements to our transmission system to ensure access to reliable and affordable power, and the development of natural gas pipelines and other energy projects to ensure fuel for use both here and exports abroad, a need made all the more real by the Russian war in Ukraine.
“The funding and authorizations provided by the IIJA will propel development, but those projects also must complete environmental reviews and secure federal permits before shovels can actually go in the ground.
“In that legislation, we also recognized that the status quo for National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA reviews and permitting has been unacceptable.
“A 2020 CEQ report found that the average Environmental Impact Statement took 4 ½ years to be completed. We know that some projects can take up of 10 years to get through the NEPA and permitting processes.
“Congress explicitly directed streamlining of environmental reviews for transportation projects, particularly by codifying the One Federal Decision policy for certain transportation projects.
“That policy recognizes that delays caused by a never-ending environmental review process can kill or stifle projects and investment.
“IIJA puts in a place a commonsense guidepost that NEPA reviews for major transportation projects should not take longer than two years, and all environmental permits and other project authorizations should follow within 90 days after that.
“A clear project timeline will help to plan, finance, and construct transportation projects within the five-year authorization window for the federal highway programs.
“Congress’s clear intent, both in the highway title and in other portions of IIJA, such as the permanent reauthorization of the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, was to ensure projects are completed faster so the American people can benefit from the investments.
“As the agency charged with overseeing implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act, as well as the agency that serves as an environmental coordinating hub administration-wide, CEQ could play a unique and instrumental role in implementing Congress’s goals.
“CEQ could institute environmental review and permitting efficiencies that can make the IIJA implementation a success.
“I will say that nothing I have seen coming out of CEQ assures me that is what’s going to happen.
“Certainly, improving NEPA efficiency does not appear to be a priority.
“Instead, CEQ seems extremely busy implementing executive orders that direct CEQ to manage and develop countless new administration-led priorities not authorized in statute, from coming up with an environmental justice screening tool to be deployed administration-wide, to managing new federal efforts to transition all government cars to electric vehicles in an unrealistic timeframe.
“CEQ is bogged down with activities imposed by the president unilaterally, and even then, CEQ cannot even keep up with the president’s own timelines.
“For example, the draft environmental justice tool was not released until this February, more than five months after President Biden’s self-imposed deadline.
“In the meantime, CEQ has not provided—I don’t think—adequate attention to actually implementing NEPA.
“The one major action related to NEPA CEQ has taken will not speed up projects.
“Last month, CEQ rolled back three key reforms made to NEPA under the Trump administration.
“CEQ proposes to put the federal government in charge of deciding a project’s purpose and need.
“CEQ would encourage individual federal agencies to layer on additional review requirements.
“And CEQ is directing agencies to bring in cumulative and indirect impacts that will have the effect of putting the thumb on the scale against certain projects.
“In doing so, CEQ has only amplified ambiguity and uncertainty—that we’re trying to get around—within the NEPA review process, which will slow down our project delivery.
“The opposition from project developers across industries, from roadbuilders to energy producers, has been swift and emphatic.
“Their message is clear: Why is CEQ making the NEPA process more difficult for project developers, not faster and clearer?
“CEQ has not shown any willingness to expedite the review and permitting review process for CCUS, as directed by Congress in the USE IT Act.
“CEQ has proposed guidance that largely serves to present alleged pros and cons of CCUS and fails to provide concrete direction to federal agencies to actually expedite CCUS projects.
“That’s disappointing to me as someone who is a big supporter of that, and telling that even with respect to projects that are clearly necessary to meet the administration’s well-publicized climate goals, CEQ is apparently unwilling to propose reforms that cut red tape.
“Chair Mallory, thank you for coming today to discuss the topics I brought up.
“This could not be a more important time for this discussion.
“Just this morning, the administration has released an action plan for expediting permitting decisions, and I look forward to learning more about that plan, as well as how the administration will implement the project delivery improvements enacted by Congress.
“The actions the administration takes now, concerning environmental review and permitting, will determine whether IIJA, the USE IT Act, and other recent legislation delivers the American people the infrastructure improvements Congress intended and they deserve.
“I look forward to today’s hearing, and I will turn it over to you, chair, for your opening statement.”
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