The Biden administration is at it again, frantically trying to erase Trump-era regulatory reforms without regard for their benefit to the American people.
The latest red-tape gambit, a hasty and misguided attempt to delay and ultimately undo a major permitting reform, is not only bad policy, it’s a violation of the public’s trust. The Biden administration’s failure to follow proper transparency and public comment laws sets a dangerous precedent — and shows the White House’s priority is partisanship, not the American people’s best interests.
The Trump administration’s reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) were a critical step toward reducing draconian regulations on our nation’s responsible energy producers and infrastructure builders — restoring limited government and removing unneeded delays, complexities, and burdens.
These critical reforms were long overdue. America is a great nation of builders and innovators, yet the permitting process has become too lengthy and unpredictable, making it exceedingly difficult to build anything at all. From roads, to bridges, to housing, to any kind of energy project, excessive bureaucracy is stranding capital, leaving infrastructure in disrepair, and preventing projects that strengthen American communities.
Bloated NEPA regulations impact every major project and have driven much of the problem. Under NEPA, American businesses and communities have had to wait years just to reach a decision on a project—the average highway takes more than seven years. This is unacceptable.
Americans deserve clear, transparent, and timely permitting decisions so that capital can be allocated to projects that are beneficial and environmentally viable, and away from those that are not.
The Trump administration’s comprehensive update of the regulations—the first in more than 40 years—was a major step in the right direction. The update centered on common sense reforms like establishing a presumptive time and page limits for review, coordinating interagency cooperation to avoid unneeded duplication of effort, and setting a much more reasonable two-year goal for completion of environmental review. These are reforms that every American should get behind.
However, there are those who believe America should no longer be a nation of builders, and who want to lead the march backward through complex and burdensome regulations. As the Biden administration’s own White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council expressed opposition to infrastructure activity as basic as “road improvements,” it is unsurprising that that the Biden administration is perpetuating a “denial by delay” bureaucracy, even while it talks with Congress about an infrastructure bill.
This contradictory policy approach will continue to be a serious drag on the nation’s economy and critically harm the nation’s ability to produce and transport the energy that powers it. The Biden administration has been much more successful in revoking permits for energy projects — from the Keystone pipeline to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve — than in replacing lost jobs and energy security with promised alternatives. The failures of these policies are abundantly clear to the American people, from the consequences of overreliance on a single pipeline exposed by the Colonial Pipeline cyberattack in May to high gas prices driving President Biden to ask OPEC and Russia to increase production.
The Biden administration would do well to remember that the United States’ reemergence as a dominant energy producer — thanks in large part to the elimination of the oil export ban in 2015 (under President Obama) and the balanced pro-energy and pro-environment policies enacted by the Trump administration — has had vast benefits for our nation.
America’s energy dominance has saved families $204 billion a year through lower electricity, oil, and natural gas prices — the equivalent of $2,500 a year for a family of four. That’s a significant sum, especially for low-income households. That $2,500 a year is money that can be invested in their families, education, their communities, and charity.
Energy dominance also gives America stronger national security and a leg up in trade negotiations, as we no longer have to rely on hostile and unstable nations for the energy we need, saving families even more on the products they need.
But we can count on all that progress being reversed if President Biden and his legion of bureaucrats keep up their anti-energy crusade by killing NEPA reform or, worse, enacting a carbon border tax.
However, what’s just as concerning as unraveling these reforms is that the Biden administration deliberately sidestepped federal transparency laws. The administration failed to provide public notice and solicit public comment — a basic good-government requirement applicable to nearly every federal rule change — and neglected to provide any clear justification beyond extraordinarily vague concerns about “meeting the nation’s needs and priorities.” This is not sufficient cause to duck longstanding transparency rules designed to protect the American people from just this kind of bureaucratic overreach.
This blatant attempt to impose a partisan agenda behind closed doors is a violation of the public’s trust. These policy discussions should happen out in the open, not snuck through using procedural shortcuts. The Biden administration owes it to the American people to abide by the basic legal requirements and uphold the NEPA reform rule while it remains on the books.
For all the talk of infrastructure and “Building Back Better,” President Biden’s insistence on undoing the previous administration’s regulatory reforms will make it harder and more expensive than ever to achieve his own goals — and harder for the American people to make a living.
This commentary originally appeared in RealClearEnergy on August 12, 2021.