July 27, 2020

Debunking the Myths Behind the NEPA Review Process

John Ruple and Heather Tanana

Our fathers grew up thousands of miles apart—one in a traditional hogan on the Navajo reservation, and the other under the city lights in Seattle. They nonetheless imparted on us similar fatherly wisdom: Don’t sacrifice your long-term goals by chasing fads; cheap is not the same as inexpensive; and, most importantly for this article, don’t believe everything that you hear. When it comes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), we took these lessons to heart. Conventional wisdom is that NEPA compliance is unduly burdensome; NEPA litigation is an overused cudgel for environmentalists; and NEPA unreasonably delays much-needed projects, thereby hurting the economy. Recalling our fathers’ words, we found ourselves searching for the data and studies to support conventional wisdom. Finding little beyond anecdotes, we set out to answer a very basic question: Does rhetoric reflect reality? We conclude that it does not. What follows is a summary of what we found with respect to several pervasive criticisms.

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