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Think Environmental Rules Are Holding Up Transportation Projects? Think Again.

Brad Plumer investigates widely echoed Republican claims that environmental rules are a major reason why it takes so long to build highways and bridges, and finds scant evidence to back up the claims.
February 6, 2012, 5am PST | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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A major piece of the GOP transportation bill released this week would streamline environmental review procedures to speed up approval and construction of highway projects. However, according to Plumer, only 4 percent of federal highway projects require an Environmental Impact Statement from federal agencies in the first place.

Plumer finds that the evidence simply isn't there (due to lack of study or lack of results) to support the conclusion that environmental regulations are a major contributor to project delays, or that prior efforts to streamline regulations have had any significant impact. One of the few instances cited by Plumer in which delays have been studied is a 2000 Federal Highway Administration survey of, "89 large projects that had suffered long delays, [which] found that just 19 percent were bogged down due to environmental concerns (resource agency review, endangered species, or wetlands)."

"The Obama administration, for its part, has taken a different approach to this issue, selecting 14 specific infrastructure projects that have been especially plagued by delays and pushing those through expedited approval. Many environmental groups and transit advocates prefer this strategy of focusing on the tiny subset of projects that are actually causing problems rather than broad legislative changes."

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Published on Friday, February 3, 2012 in The Washington Post
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