A U.S. House of Representatives task force established to consider reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has put forward several important proposals that could help ensure decisions made by federal, state and local government agencies to add new highway capacity are not subject to endless legal challenge, an American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) staff attorney said Friday, June 2.
ARTBA's Nick Goldstein delivered his remarks before an American Law Institute/American Bar Association environmental litigation conference in San Francisco. He was part of a panel analyzing the recent draft report by the House task force, which contained more than 20 recommendations for updating NEPA.
NEPA is a 1969 law that regulates the environmental review process all transportation projects must undergo before construction can begin. NEPA's original intent was to protect the environment by ensuring the public has a role in the federal decision-making process and in minimizing the environmental impacts that result from federal activities. Provisions in the law, however, have been increasingly used by anti-growth groups to shut down or delay transportation improvement projects.
Goldstein said the NEPA task force report contained a number of valuable ideas for improvement, such as eliminating duplicative reviews and curbing excessive and frivolous environmental litigation. The report calls for establishing lead agencies for conducting environmental reviews and a 180-day time limit for filing project-related NEPA lawsuits. Such a statute of limitations, Goldstein said, would lead to more certainty in the transportation planning and help speed the delivery of highway improvement projects.
Goldstein also highlighted a number of the positive environmental reforms ARTBA worked to achieve in the 2005 federal highway and transit program reauthorization bill, SAFETEA-LU.