Hearing on H.R. 2641, the "Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act of 2013"

Location: 2141 Rayburn House Office Building

Hearing on H.R. 2641, the "Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act of 2013"

Opening Statements

Statement of the Honorable John Conyers, Jr. for the
Hearing on H.R. 2641, the  "Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act of 2013"
Before the Subcommittee on Regulatory Reform, Commercial and Antitrust Law
Thursday, July 11, 2013, at 10:00 a.m.
2141 Rayburn House Office Building


       The title of bill that is the subject of today's hearing, namely – the "Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development Act of 2013" – is unfortunately very misleading.

       Rather than effectuating real reforms to the process by which federal agencies undertake environmental impact reviews as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, this legislation will actually result in making this process less responsible, less professional, and less accountable.

       Worse yet, this measure could jeopardize public health and safety by prioritizing speed over meaningful analysis. 

       To begin with, the bill – under the guise of streamlining the approval process – forecloses potentially critical input from federal, state and local agencies and other interested parties for construction projects that are federally-funded or that require federal approval.

       As a result, this measure could allow projects to proceed that put public health and safety at risk.

       For example, as Mr. Slesinger aptly explains in his prepared testimony for today's hearing, this bill could effectively prevent the Nuclear Regulatory Commission from exercising its licensing authority pertaining to nuclear power reactors, waste management sites, and nuclear waste disposal facilities. 

       This measure could even allow such projects 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 25 respected environmental groups, including the Audubon Society, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society, vigorously opposed this bill's predecessor in the last Congress.

       In issuing its veto threat regarding that prior measure, the administration noted, for example, that the bill "would create excessively complex permitting processes that would hamper economic growth." 

       Another concern that I have with this bill – like other measures that we have considered – is that it is a solution in search of a problem. 

       And, that is just not my opinion.  The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service issued a report last year stating that the primary source of approval delays for construction 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." 

       CRS further notes that project delays based on environmental requirements stem not from NEPA, but from "laws other than NEPA." 

       So I have to ask, why do we need a bill such as the so-called RAPID Act that will undoubtedly make the process less clear and less protective of public health and safety?

       My final major concern with this bill is that it is a thinly disguised effort to shift power away  from governmental agencies that are accountable to the public and to instead give greater control to politically unaccountable industry so that it can run roughshod over everyone else.

       This general tack is highlighted by a number of the bill's provisions.

       For example, the bill limits the opportunity for public participation and imposes deadlines that may be unrealistic under certain circumstances.

       In addition, the bill creates a separate, but only partly parallel environmental review process for construction projects that will only cause confusion, delay, and litigation.

       As I noted at the outset, the changes to the NEPA review process contemplated by this measure apply only  to proposed federal construction projects.

       NEPA, however, applies to a broad panoply of federal actions, including fishing, hunting, and grazing permits, land management plans, Base Realignment and Closure activities, and treaties. 

       In contrast, the bill applies only to a subset of federal activities.  In fact, even this subset is ill-defined under the measure as it fails to define what actually would constitute a construction project. 

       This could lead to 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 streamlining the NEPA process, this bill only adds complication, confusion, and potential litigation to the process.

       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 bills, this measure is a thinly disguised effort to hobble the ability of federal agencies to be able to do the work that we in Congress have assigned them to do.

Mr. William Kovacs, Sr. Vice President
U.S. Chamber of Commerce

Mr. Dennis Duffy, Vice President
Energy Management Incorporated

Mr. Nick Ivanoff, First Vice Chairman
American Road & Transportation Builders Association

Mr. John Doe, Legislative Director
Natural Resources Defense Council