Task force: Studies hinder development

Posted: Thursday, September 25, 2003

WASHINGTON A White House task force recommended Wednesday that federal agencies make it easier for developers to skip lengthy environmental studies often blamed for holding up their projects.

In a 90-page report, the group recommends that agencies develop more categories, using broad criteria, to exclude projects from reviews, and cut back on analysis required for initial studies. Each would limit the opportunity for opponents to comment on projects.

Other recommendations include drafting new federal regulations for managing fisheries, forests and other resources and creating a citizen's guide to help people better understand the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality convened a group of 11 federally employed experts on NEPA, including two members of the White House council's staff, in May 2002 to study how agencies put into the law into practice.

Other members of the task force include NEPA experts from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Forest Service, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the departments of Commerce, Energy, Interior and Transportation.

The Bush administration has blamed NEPA for bureaucratic gridlock. Signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, NEPA is used by environmentalists to limit development on public land and force protections for endangered species.

Council chair James Connaugh-ton said the report was intended to ''modernize the paper process'' and improve the way government considers environmental factors in planning and decision-making.

''I'm hopeful you're going to find that this is a lot of just good old-fashioned basic good management practices,'' Connaughton told reporters.

''In sum, we're looking for a more effective and a more timely NEPA process that is more collaborative, (so that) government can be more efficient in doing these reviews, and therefore have more resources available to do the reviews even better.''

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