"The government-wide average for completing a full environmental impact statement . . . is just 4.6 years," whined Center for American Progress infrastructure specialist Kevin DeGood in the Washington Post. My immediate response was "just 4.6 years!" DeGood was reacting to President Donald Trump's dramatic gesture last week when he dropped binders of an environmental assessment report "costing $24,000 per page" that had been compiled in order to obtain approval for building a stretch of highway in Maryland.
"These binders on the stage could be replaced by just a few simple pages," Trump said. "These binders also make you do unnecessary things that cost millions and millions of dollars, and they actually make it worse."
Environmental reviews have dramatically slowed the creation and modernization of roads, bridges, energy production, water supply, and airports. For example, the Obama administration used environmental reviews by the State Department as an excuse to prevent for six years the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport oilsands crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast. (The Trump administration approved it in March.) Similarly, environmental reviews have delayed the building of the Cape Wind offshore wind energy project for 16 years and counting.
In a terrific Washington Post column, George Will cites a 2015 study by the the nonpartisan reform coalition Common Good headed by attorney Philip K. Howard. The Common Good "believes individual responsibility, not mindless bureaucracy, must be the organizing principle of government." The report, "Two Years Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals, asserts:
Red tape is not the price of good government; it is the enemy of good government. Time is money: America could modernize its infrastructure, at half the cost, while dramatically enhancing environmental benefits, with a two-year approval process. Our analysis shows that a six-year delay in starting construction on public projects costs the nation over $3.7 trillion, including the costs of prolonged inefficiencies and unnecessary pollution. This is more than double the $1.7 trillion needed through the end of this decade to modernize America's infrastructure.
Even if it the Common Good report's estimate were half of what it calculates, it would still represent an enormous amount drag on economic growth and job creation. President Trump's impulse to dramatically streamline the regulatory approval process is sound, but whether his administration can pull it off remains to be seen.