Backed by the business lobby, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) is proposing an economic stimulus amendment to streamline environmental regulations for projects funded by the stimulus– a move that could ignite a firestorm in the environmental community.
The amendment for the stimulus bill, now being debated in the Senate, would give the government a tight, 270-day deadline to complete environmental reviews of stimulus projects required under the National Environmental Policy Act, which environmentalists consider the Holy Grail of environmental laws.
“This bill aims to streamline NEPA so reviews are done within nine months of any stimulus bill being passed,” Barrasso said. “If these projects are indeed ‘shovel ready,’ they will be able to meet a nine-month deadline. Otherwise they should face the ax.”
Usually there are no time limits on NEPA reviews. The law requires government agencies to examine the environmental impacts of their projects, a tool that environmentalists have relied on for decades to revise or stop projects that pose dangers to the environment or animal species.
More than a dozen environmental groups have written senators, arguing that the stimulus is already chock-full of projects that have completed environmental reviews and would not be held up.
And Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) is currently working on a counteramendment that would mandate all stimulus funded projects comply with NEPA or not be funded.
“This is an absolutely essential review to ensure public involvement in public works decisions,” said Greenpeace global warming campaign director Steven Biel. “There are more than enough shovel-ready projects out there that have already undergone NEPA reviews. There is absolutely no reason why this process needs to be waived.”
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