Published in June 2012 by the Regional Plan Association of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
In the 40 years since the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act and the development of the current federal regulatory process, the practice of completing environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects has significantly lengthened average project delivery times. For example, in 2011, the average time it took to complete an environmental impact statement on a highway project was over eight years, compared with two years just after the law was passed. And yet experience has shown that the law itself still provides a strong regulatory framework that ensures adequate protection for the environment, a process for reaching informed investment decisions, and sufficient flexibility to comply with environmental requirements in an expedited manner. It is the misguided implementation of the law that has significantly affected project delivery time.
This report focuses on common federal and state agency implementation practices of the National Environmental Policy Act – or NEPA – that lead to delays, which are often overlooked in discussions of streamlining the environmental review process. Delays during the NEPA process are often caused by:
- Lack of stakeholder consensus over fundamental aspects of a project, which are not efficiently resolved during the environmental review process;
- Differing and conflicting interpretations of NEPA requirements, and inconsistent implementing policies and procedures among the multitude of government agencies;
- Administrative bottlenecks and outdated procedures within agencies that have insufficient staff capacity and training to efficiently complete environmental studies or reviews; and
- Misdirected response to the threat of environmental litigation, which leads to overly complex and technical environmental analysis and rigorous documentation efforts.
The report offers six recommendations aimed at reducing the time to complete environmental reviews and thus expediting project delivery. The leading recommendation is to integrate planning and environmental reviews.