Friday, September 25, 2015

Floor Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. in Opposition to H.R. 348, the “Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act of 2015"

            “Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong opposition to H.R. 348, the ‘Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act of 2015’ or so-called RAPID Act.  

            “H.R. 348 has many flaws.  Most critically, this measure could jeopardize public health and safety by prioritizing project approval over meaningful analysis that currently is required under the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA. 

            “By giving the proponents of construction projects greater control over the environmental approval process, this bill is the equivalent of giving Wall Street the authority to write its own regulations for financial responsibility.

“The bill accomplishes this result in several respects.

            “To begin with, H.R. 348 – under the guise of streamlining the approval process – forecloses potentially critical input from federal, state, and local agencies as well as from members of the public to comment on environmentally-sensitive construction projects that are federally-funded or that require federal approval.

            “The bill also imposes hard and fast deadlines that may be unrealistic under certain circumstances.

            “Moreover, if an agency fails to meet these unrealistic deadlines, the bill simply declares that a project must be deemed approved, regardless of whether the agency has thoroughly assessed risks.

“As a result, H.R. 348 could allow projects that put public health and safety at risk to be approved before the safety review is completed.   

            “This failing of the bill, along with many others, explains why the Administration and the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, along with more than 40 respected environmental groups vigorously oppose this legislation.

            “These organizations include Public Citizen, the League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society.

            “Likewise, the Administration issued a strong veto threat.  Stating that the bill will “increase litigation, regulatory delays, and potentially force agencies to approve a project if the review and analysis cannot be completed before the proposed arbitrary deadlines,” the Administration warns that if H.R. 348 became law, it “would lead to more confusion and delay, limit public participation in the permitting process, and ultimately hamper economic growth.”        
“Another concern that I have with this bill – like other measures that we have considered – is that it is a flawed solution in search of an imaginary problem.  And, that is not just my opinion. 

            “The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, for instance, states that highway construction project delays based on environmental requirements stem not from the National Environmental Policy Act, but from ‘laws other than NEPA.’ 

            “In fact, CRS found that the primary source of approval delays for these projects ‘are more often tied to local/state and project-specific factors, primarily local/state agency priorities, project funding levels, local opposition to a project, project complexity, or late changes in project scope.’ 

            “Undoubtedly, the so-called RAPID Act will make the process less clear and less protective of public health and safety.

            “My final major concern with this bill is that – rather than streamlining the environmental review process – it will sow utter confusion. 

            “H.R. 348 does this by creating a separate, but only partly parallel environmental review process for construction projects, which will cause confusion, delay, and litigation.

            “As I noted at the outset, the changes to the  National Environmental Policy Act’s review process as contemplated by H.R. 348 apply only to certain construction projects.

            “The National Environmental Policy Act, on the other hand, applies to a broad panoply of federal actions, including fishing, hunting, and grazing permits, land management plans, Base Realignment and Closure activities, and treaties. 
“As a result of the bill, there could potentially be two different environmental review processes for the same project.  For instance, the bill’s requirements would apply to the construction of a nuclear reactor, but not to its decommissioning or to the transportation and storage of its spent fuel.

            “Rather than improving the environmental review process, this bill will complicate it and generate litigation.

            “But, more importantly, this bill is yet another effort by my friends on the other side of the aisle to undermine regulatory protections.   
            “As with all the other regulatory bills, this measure is a thinly disguised effort to hobble the ability of federal agencies to do the work that Congress requires them to do.  I strenuously oppose this seriously flawed bill and reserve the balance of my time.”

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