Biden Policies Hamper Infrastructure Projects

November 16, 2021

By Andrew Wheeler

While President Biden is touting the Infrastructure Bill at a White House signing ceremony, his Administration is actively making it harder to move forward with infrastructure projects across the country.

Last year the Trump Administration modernized the NEPA regulations for the first time in over forty years. These regulations govern how long the federal government takes to review the environmental permits for projects, particularly infrastructure projects. President Trump set a goal for project reviews to be completed within two years; In some cases, reviews were taking five to ten years or even longer. Importantly, this goal did not sacrifice environmental standards, but rather sought timely permitting decisions to allow capital to be allocated toward projects that are environmentally viable and away from those that are not. However, the Biden White House proposed to delay these critical reforms this summer and now is proposing to reverse these reforms, stretching out the permit reviews even longer. This means stranded capital with major infrastructure projects facing years of delays before a permitting decision is even reached, even as the Biden Administration cites critical infrastructure needs as the basis for trillions of dollars in new spending. 

At the same time, the Biden Administration is subjecting important infrastructure to additional unnecessary bureaucratic delays by stopping expedited water permits. The Biden Army Corps of Engineers has taken one district court decision impacting sixteen of the NWP categories updated by the Trump Administration and voluntarily applied it nationwide, even though the court decision was limited in scope. 

These Nationwide Permits (NWP) are used across the board for stormwater projects, agricultural uses, electric utility line projects and a dozen other activities. The NWP program expedites the reviews to typically less than sixty days. Absent the expedited program, permittees must apply for an individual permit which typically takes over a year. The Army Corps processes over 50,000 activities a year through the NWP and over 2,500 individual permits. If everyone is required to go the individual permit route, it will bog down the entire system in a matter of weeks, certainly delaying infrastructure projects for the 2022 construction year. 

Instead of creating jobs for construction workers across the country and the infrastructure Americans need, the Biden White House seems intent on creating new jobs for lawyers challenging federal permits under NEPA and permit writers for water projects. Unfortunately, these jobs will not benefit the American public, just the trial lawyers and environmental activists who oppose any new projects. This will also deal a severe blow to modernizing the electric grid and promoting “green” infrastructure that is at the heart of the Biden climate initiative. The Trump Administration chose to advance infrastructure for the American people, while the Biden Administration has thus far chosen to empower bureaucrats and increase the costs of infrastructure projects.

Andrew Wheeler serves as Chairman, Center for the Environment for the America First Policy Institute (AFPI).

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