Republican Majority Holds Hearings on So-Called “Permitting Reform” Bills that Fast-Track Polluter Projects by Gutting Environmental Review

Washington, D.C. – Today, House Natural Resources Republicans held two legislative hearings—one in the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee and one at the Full Committee level—to examine three bills that will advance their so-called “permitting reform” agenda to fast-track fossil fuel development and mining, at the expense of the environment and communities.

Similar to numerous Republican bills introduced in the past, these bills aim to severely hamstring the environmental review and public input processes in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into by President Nixon in 1970, NEPA is one of the country’s most fundamental environmental and public health and safety protections. NEPA requires the federal government to study, analyze, and publicly disclose the potential impacts of major federal actions, including permitting.

Weakening NEPA has been a long-standing goal of the fossil fuel and mining industries. Today’s three bills represent Republicans’ latest attempt to use the clean energy transition as a foil to fulfill these industry wishes by restricting judicial review, arbitrarily shortening environmental review processes and narrowing their scope, limiting the public’s access to the judicial system, and allowing industry to conduct their own environmental reviews, among several other harmful provisions. 

WATCH Ranking Member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) opening statement for the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee here.

WATCH Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva’s opening statement for the Full Committee here (full transcript below).


Witness Testimony Highlights

At the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee hearing, minority witness Mark Squillace, a Professor of Law at the University of Colorado with ample experience and expertise in public land management, pointed out some especially egregious provisions of Republicans’ mining bill (H.R. 209).

“H.R. 209 essentially gives the mining companies carte blanche to claim mining rights without ever having to even make a discovery of minerals. In addition, mining companies will have an unfettered right to use whatever public lands they need for ancillary facilities. This would include, for example, the massive mine waste piles that they generate from their mining operations. And mine operators—most of which are foreign-owned by the way—can take the public’s minerals without paying a dime to the U.S. Treasury.

“Most worrisome, the proposal is not limited to critical minerals; it would also open our public lands to potentially thousands of mines for certain types of common minerals, like limestone, gravel, and clay. Before we give away our public lands to foreign mining companies, we should step back and consider real mining reform.”

WATCH Mr. Squillace’s full testimony here.

At the Full Committee hearing, minority witness John Beard, Jr., CEO of the Port Arthur Community Action Network and second-generation petrochemical refinery worker, spoke to the major destructive environmental and public health impacts of the petrochemical industry on his community of Port Arthur, Texas, as well as the need for stronger protections in permitting processes. 

“We’re called a sacrifice community. You know why? Because [for] America to have oil and gas, and drive planes and cars, and fly and go places, that’s what we have to put up with. We have to put up with smelly odors in our homes that have been released, yet no one knows where they came from, and any number of things that I’d be glad to talk to you about if you ask me the questions.

“But I’m here to say today that this bill in the current form it is written is not permitting reform; it is a death knell, a death sentence, to communities like mine all along the Gulf Coast from Florida all the way to the tip of Texas in Brownsville. Those communities deserve and need protection—not weakening the protection. Strengthen it so we can do this thing and have an energy transition that is clean, green, and healthy. But not to where we allow industry to have a blank check and continue what you’re seeing there [in pictures shown during testimony]”

WATCH Mr. Beard’s full testimony here.


Ranking Member Grijalva Full Committee Hearing Opening Statement

This feels a little like déjà vu. A few weeks ago, we sat in this room, while my colleagues across the aisle spent hours scapegoating our environmental review processes, namely those under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, for every single issue or delay the fossil fuel industry has ever had.

Then, this morning, our Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee held a hearing on two bills that would act on that scapegoating by gutting NEPA and the environmental review, and other key laws.

And now, here we are again, with yet another bill taking aim at NEPA, and what is best for the public interest is secondary, if that.

And as I have in our other hearings, I feel obligated to point out how irresponsible it is to cut environmental review while we’re in the midst of the greatest environmental crisis of our time.

I’ll also point out again that it’s especially stark to cut environmental reviews for the fossil fuel industry, the biggest culprit responsible for the climate crisis that we’re in.

And finally, I’ll point out again that poor communities, communities of color, and Indigenous Peoples who have been bulldozed and poisoned for decades by fossil fuel companies—companies that have used their communities as dumping grounds—are the same ones who are being hit hardest by climate change.

But as many times as I make these points, it doesn’t change one key fact. Republicans and their industry allies don’t like NEPA. And they will push every bill they can to try to hobble its effectiveness.

The extreme GOP platform has shifted to one that vilifies the federal government and its laws, so they can put private industry—no matter how dirty, reckless, or greedy—up on a pedestal above the needs of the general public.

That means NEPA will always be the nemesis, no matter how nonsensical it is. 

If you need more convincing, let’s look at some facts.

As we will hear today, Republicans will cite a handful of delayed projects out of tens of thousands of projects and actions reviewed under NEPA each year to say we should eliminate environmental protections they want to eliminate anyways.

What you won’t hear much about is the actual causes of the delays during environmental reviews. 

Well, fortunately, experts have already researched the main causes of project delays when they do occur.

The first one is a lack of capacity at federal agencies—lack of staff, expertise, or budgets for environmental reviews at underfunded federal agencies. This is of course largely due to the Republican campaigns to gut these gutting these very agencies and their programs.

The second main cause of delay is poor market conditions or other issues with the project’s operator. For example, in nine out of the ten years over the last decade, the Bureau of Land Management spent more time waiting for oil and gas operators to submit information than it spent reviewing drilling permit applications. Market conditions may have led operators not to prioritize certain applications.

And the third main cause of delay is related to other laws, including state and local laws.

You probably noticed that not one of these reasons is NEPA.

I’d also like to point out that the Democrats on the Committee authored provisions in the Inflation Reduction Act to provide more than $1 billion to staff up and train federal agencies’ offices to carry out efficient and effective environmental reviews. This will address one of the main causes of project delay I just listed.

Not one Republican voted for that Inflation Reduction Act or any other legislation.

So, you can imagine my skepticism when I hear about the need to accelerate environmental reviews through the so-called permitting reform, and see bills that allow the fossil fuel industry to pollute when and where it wants without having to tell the public too much about it.

Instead, these bills will be a detriment to the environment, our communities, and the future. The results of deregulation are not more pointed than what happened in East Palestine and that derailment. That happened, cause and effect, after the former administration, the Trump administration, effectively deregulated some of the safety regulations that existed for railroads.

With that, Mr. Chairman, I yield back.

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