Environmental Rules Aren’t the Problem

September 11, 2017

For over a year President Trump promised to rebuild America’s infrastructure. While the details of his program have not been fully disclosed, it appears that rolling back environmental regulations will be at its core. Rolling back those rules, the President believes, will speed up “the painfully slow, costly and time-consuming process of getting permits and approvals to build.”

As a Republican for most of my life, I generally support deregulation. Market mechanisms are usually more effective in allocating resources, stimulating innovation, and delivering projects. But when there is market failure, regulations can be critical to protecting public interests, such as clean air and water, land and resource conservation, greater fuel efficiency, and highway and workplace safety.

Applying for environmental approvals—whether wetlands or endangered species permits, or Coast Guard navigational consents—can be burdensome. It is, however, a necessary step to balance public values with accelerated project delivery. Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)—mandated for large projects by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and apparently the bane of the President’s frustration—are the principal means to assure broad support for significant projects.

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