H.R. 348 would reform the review process for the environmental impact of federally-funded construction projects. The goal of these reforms would be to streamline the review process under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The bill also would prohibit the consideration of the “social cost of carbon” in any environmental review or decision making process. It was passed in the House by a partisan vote of 233-170, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against, and it goes to the Senate next. The Obama Administration issued a veto threat on the previous incarnation of the bill which passed the House in March 2014.
###National Environmental Policy Act and the Review Process
NEPA requires all federal agencies to determine the expected environmental impact of any project and consider alternative strategies to reduce impact. Agencies must prepare statements of these costs. NEPA established the President’s Council of Environmental Quality to oversee these statements and ensure federal agencies meet their obligations under the act.
The requirements of NEPA tend to prolong and increase the cost of federal projects that are likely to have high environmental impact. Federally funded construction or energy projects are examples. Rep. Tom Marino (R-PA10), sponsor of H.R. 348, wrote in a press release, that delaying projects and increasing costs can have a negative economic impact. Reducing the rate of federal construction and infrastructure projects prevents those projects from hiring employees. Republicans and Democrats disagree about how to maximize job growth while minimizing environmental damages. Rep. Marino and the Republican party believe that H.R. 348 will increase the efficiency of NEPA to promote job growth. Democrats disagree, claiming the bill would only cripple the review process without actually improving efficiency.
###Social Costs of Carbon
A prominent subject of controversy for H.R. 348 is the prohibition of consideration of the social cost of carbon from environmental reviews of federal projects. The cost is calculated by the expected economic damages of the increase in carbon dioxide emission from the federal project. Republicans have previously criticized the cost as wasteful, arguing that the calculation is too speculative to warrant the impact it has on federal projects. Democrats and environmentalists, however, assert it is necessary to compensate for the economic costs associated with global warming and to discourage further emissions.
The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Sep 25, 2015.
Responsibly And Professionally Invigorating Development Act of 2015 or the RAPID Act
(Sec. 2) This bill amends the Administrative Procedure Act to establish procedures to streamline the regulatory review, environmental decision making, and permitting process required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) for construction projects that are federally funded or that require federal approval by a permit or regulatory decision.
Upon the request of a lead agency responsible for preparing environmental review documents, a project sponsor is authorized to prepare environmental review documents if the agency: (1) oversees the preparation of the documents, (2) provides independent evaluation of them, and (3) approves and adopts the documents prior to taking action or making any approval based on the documents. "Environmental review" means the federal agency procedures for preparing an environmental impact statement (EIS), environmental assessment (EA), categorical exclusion, or other document under NEPA.
No more than one EIS and one EA for a project must be prepared under NEPA, except for supplemental environmental documents prepared under NEPA or environmental documents prepared pursuant to a court order. After the lead agency issues a record of decision, federal agencies responsible for making any approval for that project may only rely on the environmental document prepared by the lead agency.
Upon the request of a project sponsor, the lead agency may: (1) adopt, use, or rely on secondary and cumulative impact analyses included in documents prepared under NEPA for projects located nearby if the analyses are pertinent to the NEPA decision for the project under review; and (2) adopt a document that has been prepared for a project under state laws as the EIS or EA for the project if those laws provide environmental protection and opportunities for public involvement that are substantially equivalent to NEPA.
The lead agency must publish a supplement to the state document before it adopts it if: (1) a significant change has been made to the project that is relevant for purposes of environmental review of the project, or (2) there have been significant changes in circumstances or availability of information relevant to the environmental review for the project.
A lead agency may adopt for a project an environmental document prepared for a similar project that is nearby and that was subject to environmental review or similar state procedures within the last five years if there is a reasonable likelihood that the project will have similar environmental impacts.
The lead agency must invite any federal agency that is required to adopt the lead agency's environmental document to collaborate in the preparation of the document. A federal cooperating agency must collaborate on the preparation of that document unless it informs the lead agency that it: (1) has no jurisdiction, authority, expertise, or information with respect to the project; and (2) does not intend to submit comments on the project.
The bill precludes any agency that declines to collaborate from submitting comments on that document or taking measures to oppose any permit, license, or approval related to that project based on the environmental review. The lead agency may not act upon, respond to, or include in any document prepared under NEPA any comment submitted by a cooperating agency that concerns matters that are outside of the cooperating agency's authority and expertise.
Each federal agency must: (1) carry out obligations under other applicable laws concurrently and in conjunction with the review required under NEPA; and (2) make and carry out rules, policies, and procedures as may be reasonably necessary to enable the agency to ensure the completion of the environmental review and environmental decision making process in a timely, coordinated, and environmentally responsible manner.
The bill establishes requirements for initiating and completing environmental review for a project, including requirements with respect to: (1) the range of alternatives to be considered; (2) methodologies for analyzing those alternatives, including potential effects on employment as well as the potential effects of the alternative on low-income communities and communities of color; (3) a plan for coordinating public and agency participation in the environmental review; (4) comment periods for public and agency comments in the environmental review process; and (5) a schedule for completing the review. Cooperating agencies must comply with that schedule.
For projects requiring preparation of an EA, the bill establishes a one-year deadline for issuing a finding of no significant impact or a Notice of Intent to Prepare an EIS. For projects requiring preparation of an EIS, the bill establishes a two-year deadline for completing the EIS. Conditions for extensions are established.
The bill sets forth deadlines that apply to projects subject to review under NEPA and any decision under federal law relating to those projects. The bill deems a project to be approved if a federal agency fails to approve or otherwise act upon a permit, license, or other similar application for approval related to a project by those deadlines. Approval that is granted as a result of the failure of a federal agency to act is considered to be final agency action that may not be reversed by an agency.
The bill prescribes responsibilities of the lead agency and the cooperating agencies to work cooperatively to identify and resolve issues that could delay completion of the environmental review or could result in denial of any approvals required for the project under applicable laws.
In the environmental review or environmental decision making process, a lead agency may not use estimates of the monetized damages associated with an incremental increase in carbon dioxide emissions in a given year.
The head of each federal agency must report annually on: (1) the projects for which the agency initiated preparation of an EIS or EA; (2) the projects for which the agency issued a record of decision or a finding of no significant impact and the length of time it took the agency to complete the environmental review for each such project; and (3) the filing and resolution of any lawsuits against the agency seeking judicial review of a permit, license, or approval issued by the agency for an action subject to NEPA.
Limitations are placed on claims arising under federal law seeking judicial review of a permit, license, or approval issued by a federal agency for an action subject to NEPA.