I have posted a few times recently about the tension between environmental regulation and economic development, particularly in the context of current efforts at devising a stimulus package in Congress. Yesterday, Congress rejected an amendment to the stimulus bill, offered by Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), which would have required NEPA reviews to be completed within 270 days for projects funded through the stimulus. Projects not reviewed during this time period would have been constructively approved, i.e., the absence of NEPA review during the 270-day period would have resulted in a determination that the project had no significant impact.
Instead, Congress approved a competing amendment offered by Senator Boxer, which simply requires that NEPA reviews be completed as expeditiously as possible. Senator Barrasso went on record thanking Senator Boxer for at least introducing her amendment recognizing the importance of expedited review. Nonetheless, the proof will be in the pudding when highway projects – or other projects in the stimulus bill that might have significant environmental opposition – attempt to run the NEPA gauntlet.