By Christian Roselund
Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives have released two drafts and one full piece of legislation to reform the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a foundational environmental law that sets conditions for permitting of energy and other infrastructure on federal lands and waters. All three bills put various limitations on environmental reviews and the ability to file lawsuits to challenge permitting decisions. Additionally, the TAP American Energy Act seeks to expand oil and gas leasing on public land, and the Permitting for Mining Needs Act focuses on easing permitting and providing additional support for mining.
The draft of the BUILDER Act, presented by Garret Graves (R-Louisiana), contained the most comprehensive reforms to NEPA. This bill would set a 2-year deadline for most environmental reviews, limit most environmental impact statements to 150 pages and restrict what federal agencies could consider during the permitting process. The bill would also put require parties that seek to challenge permits to have participated in the NEPA process and give them a 120-day deadline after the issuance of a permit to file lawsuits challenging the process.
In a hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Jared Huffman (D-California) described the BUILDER Act as a “rehash of Republican attempts to gut NEPA,” and “zombie legislation.” Other Democrats on the Environment committee also criticized the bill. Rep. Mike Levin (D-California) indicated that he would like to work with Republicans on permitting reform, but he described the bill as unacceptable in its current form.
While the BUILDER Act and the TAP American Energy Act were presented as discussion drafts, Republicans have introduced the Permitting for Mining Needs Act of 2023 as active legislation. In addition to setting timelines for environmental assessments and environmental impact statements under NEPA, this bill would apply the critical minerals provisions of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to all mineral extraction. It would also designate uranium as a “critical mineral” and apply a 120-day deadline for filing suit to challenge permitting actions.
These three bills follow an attempt by Senator Joe Machin (D-West Virginia) to push through permitting reform in the fall of 2022. The attempt was opposed both by the senators on the Left of the Democratic Party and by Republicans. Democrats were opposed to measures that would force the permitting of a natural gas pipeline as well as the changes to NEPA, whereas Republicans stated that the bill gave too much power to the federal government to approve transmission lines.
Unlike Manchin’s bill, the BUILDER Act avoids specific measure to reform approval of transmission, instead focusing on NEPA reform. BUILDER Act does not call out specific projects or specific technologies, as did Manchin’s bill and the other two pieces of legislation.
American Clean Power Association has put out a statement in support of the TAP American Energy Act. But despite support from a clean energy trade group, these bills have little chance of becoming law in their current form due to Democratic control of the senate and presidency. They are more likely to serve as the starting point for negotiations.
Source: BUILDER Act of 2023 (House Committee on Natural Resources)