GOP Calls for NEPA Overhaul

House member Cathy McMorris (R-WA) chairs a committee that seeks to streamline NEPA.

Following the final hearing of a 20-member bi-partisan Congressional task force charged with assessing the effectiveness of the nation’s most far-reaching environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), House Republicans are calling for a series of fixes that would streamline permitting and reduce red tape on environmental assessments required on federal construction projects.

As it currently stands, NEPA requires federal officials to conduct detailed environmental assessments before going forward with major projects such as highway construction and flood control. The law also allows members of the public to challenge the government’s conclusions, which, according to Washington Republican and task force chair Cathy McMorris, leads to delays, excessive paperwork and lawsuits. Currently, the federal government undertakes about 50,000 such environmental assessments each year at a cost of billions of dollars to taxpayers.

Last month, McMorris’ staff released a 30-page report calling for a series of “fixes” to NEPA that include setting mandatory deadlines for completing environmental assessments, giving greater consideration to local perspectives on individual cases, minimizing the duplication of work done by state officials, and defining more precisely which types of projects require extensive study.

“I’m hoping we can find some common ground and move forward,” McMorris told reporters, adding that she envisions the report “as a beginning point for discussion.”