September 25, 2020

In 1970, President Nixon signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Congress originally passed NEPA as a procedural statute that would ensure federal agencies were accounting for the environmental consequences of proposed federal actions or projects. 

Over the last 50 years, this process has substantially deviated from its original purpose. NEPA is now a complex, bureaucratic labyrinth that dramatically increases the cost and timeline for many urgently needed projects. In this situation, there are no winners. There are, however, many who lose out including American consumers, businesses, and employees. The current situation also creates ironic hurdles for land managers who are interested in conservation projects.

Therefore, I am excited to announce an effort I am calling the “Undoing NEPA’s Substantial Harm by Advancing Concepts that Kickstart the Liberation of the Economy” or UNSHACKLE Act. It contains a number of provisions to reform the NEPA regulatory process so that federal agencies, state and local governments, and other project sponsors are empowered to carry out NEPA’s original purpose.

The UNSHACKLE Act can be divided into four main reform areas:

  1. Timing – imposing one and two-year deadlines on the length of time agencies can take to assess any environmental impact and approve or deny projects. Currently, the average wait time is more than four years, and the assessment for one highway expansion project in Colorado took 13 years! 
  2. Process – mandating only one report of estimated impact and prohibiting the federal government from offering infeasible alternatives. For instance, if a state government is planning to build roadways, the federal agency shouldn’t come back and tell them to build a transit system. 
  3. Litigation – one of the biggest drivers of the length and expense of the NEPA process is litigation. The UNSHACKLE Act clarifies certain legal requirements and establishes a 150-day statute of limitations on NEPA-related claims.
  4. Delegation – allowing states that are willing and able to handle the NEPA review to do so on behalf of the federal government. Six states, including Utah, already have such an agreement with the Federal Highway Administration. The UNSHACKLE Act expands this delegation authority to all federal agencies. 

In order to bring our economy back from the devastation of COVID-19, we have to be sure businesses are empowered to rehire their workers and roar back to life. As the country looks to reopen, the best way to aid the post-COVID-19 recovery is to eliminate unnecessary regulatory red tape and reduce government inference. The UNSHACKLE Act’s regulatory reforms will help reduce business operating expenses and create more certainty for investors and projects in Utah and throughout the country.