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The Key to Shortening Environmental Reviews

A new report documents the dramatic growth in the average length of environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects. While some have called for easing environmental protections as the solution, the report authors have different suggestions.
July 3, 2012, 1pm PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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Nate Berg discusses the findings conatined in a new report [PDF] from America 2050, the national infrastruc­ture planning and policy program of the Regional Plan Association. The report documents the increase in the average environmental review period for highway projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) -- which reached an astonishing 8.1 years in 2011 -- and suggests ways to expedite the environmental review process. 

While initiatives proposed over the last two decades to reduce review times have sought to, "cut through bureaucratic red tape and expedite the review process by rewriting regulations or removing key requirements from the law," the report's authors conclude that, "Streamlining measures such as these risk weakening the environmental protections and public process established by NEPA."

Instead, they point to, "a lack of communication and consensus in the pre-NEPA planning stage, administrative process bottlenecks, project management failings, or a lack of capacity among the agencies involved in the process," as the main causes of delays. 

Berg notes that, "By streamlining the processes within agencies and better integrating planning and environmental reviews, delays on major projects can be largely avoided, according to the report."

"The most important advice in the report may be the most obvious: get more consensus from stakeholders early on in the planning process and there will be fewer delays caused by people upset with the design and its potential impacts."

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Published on Monday, July 2, 2012 in The Atlantic Cities
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