“DOE to do NEPA’s EIS on BNFL’s AMWTP at INEEL after SRA protest”

Conn Carroll /

The above sentence is an actual headline from the Idaho Mountain Express. Translated from lawyer to English it reads: Department of Energy to do National Environmental Policy Act environmental impact statement on British Nuclear Fuels Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project at Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory after Society for Risk Analysis protest.” What the sentence means, is that are nation’s environmental laws have an absolute stranglehold on the energy sector of our economy. Many progressives, like Open Left‘s Matt Stoller, often argue that had we not invaded Iraq, we could have spent the last five years investing in our energy infrastructure. What they always forget is that our outdated environmental laws simply would not have allowed that infrastructure to be built.

The Atlantic’s Megan McArdle has similar thoughts here:

The idea that we should use emergency infrastructure spending as a stimulus is gaining strength among liberals. As the daughter of a transportation guy, I can certainly vouch for the fact that many areas of American infrastructure are in dire need of improvement.

However, as the daughter of a transportation guy, I regret to report that the idea of using infrastructure spending as a stimulus is a complete fantasy. This is not your grandfather’s stimulus spending. FDR could spend whacking great sums on dams and roads and rural electrification, and hope to have an immediate effect, because FDR was working on a multi-year depression, and in the pre-1960s regulatory environment.

Between the environmental impact statements, public review periods, and byzantine bidding process, the development cycle for anything more complicated than painting a bus station is now measured in decades, not years. This wouldn’t even work to get us out of the ten-year Great Depression, much less the more modest recessions of today. As my father likes to point out, if Bush had come into office declaring that his number one priority was shoring up the levees in New Orleans, by the time Katrina hit they might, with luck and a huge amount of political pressure, have been ready to put the EIS out for public review. More likely, they would still have been wrangling over the funding mechanisms and which state and federal agencies had exactly what authority.