Bush: Speed up environmental reviews
Posted on Thu, Sep. 19, 2002
By JOHN HEILPRIN
WASHINGTON - President Bush
has told federal agencies to speed up environmental reviews of transportation
projects that are vital to the economy.
The order drew criticism from
environmentalists and Sen. James Jeffords, I-Vt., whose Senate Environment and
Public Works Committee was holding a hearing Thursday on administration efforts
to streamline environmental reviews.
"This executive order is about as
clear as a rainy day," said Jeffords. "It seems to raise more questions than it
Bush's order on Wednesday calls on the transportation secretary
to create a list of projects for expedited review. A Cabinet-level task force
would review the priority list every few months and make it easier to get the
Some of those reviews involve environmental impact
statements, which can take years to complete. Most, however, are environmental
assessments, which can be done in months.
The typical time for
environmental reviews of major highway projects is 4 1/2 years, while airport
runway proposals take three years, according to the White House.
order said progress on such projects "in an efficient and environmentally sound
manner is essential to the well-being of the American people and a strong
The White House is conducting a review of the 1970
National Environmental Policy Act, which requires lengthy studies of the effects
a proposed project would have on the environment and ways to minimize that
Deron Lovaas, a transportation specialist with Natural Resources
Defense Council, an environmental group, said Bush's order seemed to chip away
at environmental safeguards. He said federal highway data shows that delays with
transportation projects are usually caused by a project's complexity or lack of
money, not environmental reviews.
"This is a way to circumvent NEPA,
mostly by setting up this new category of high-priority projects and giving the
(transportation) secretary so much latitude to determine how the process moves
forward," Lovaas said.
Officials with the White House Council on
Environmental Quality, which is overseeing the broad NEPA review, have said they
hope to update a law that often means bureaucratic delays for
"Any and all reviews under this executive order will fully
comply with NEPA and all other environmental statutes," White House spokesman
Scott McClellan said. Speeding up these transportation projects, he said, can
ease congestion and reduce pollution at the same time.