In a plan that was intended to be quick and temporary, Congress passed a $787 billion stimulus plan, which included large sums of money to fund infrastructure projects. Never mind the fact that the stimulus bill was a bad idea, the amount of environmental regulatory tape standing in the way will prevent it from ever getting off the ground. Normally it takes a federal construction project an average of 4.4 years to complete a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) review. Throw in the Clean Water Act’s section 404 requirements (where relevant), and before a single shovel can hit the earth it takes 5.6 years for the average federal project to jump through all the normal environmental hoops. It could get worse in the very near future. E&E (password protected) reports:

“The Obama administration may soon issue an executive order adding climate change to the list of factors federal agencies must take into account when evaluating projects and policies.

Environmentalists have pushed for the expansion of the 40-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which currently requires agencies to consider environmental factors such as land use, biodiversity and air quality.”

What haven’t environmentalists pushed for the expansion of? The only answer that comes to mind is economic growth. Senior Energy Analyst at The Heritage Foundation Ben Lieberman writes, “The environmental movement itself is, by design, anti-growth. After all, these are the individuals and organizations that regularly fight to stop new factories, power plants, and construction projects. For them, environmental concerns, real or exaggerated, almost always trump economic ones, and it is rare for them to be lacking an excuse to oppose a project.”

David Bookbinder, chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club, supports the idea, saying:

“People will think longer and harder and smarter about what they build when they understand that the environment around them is changing.”

It will be longer and harder but it certainly won’t be smarter. It will simply be more expensive and guarantee that the billions in infrastructure spending in this stimulus bill will not be spent till years after the economy has already recovered. The money that will be spent in the near-term won’t be spent efficiently; it will be spent overcoming unnecessary regulatory hurdles that prevent actual economic activity. In a letter sent to Nancy Sutley, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Senators James M. Inhofe (R-OK.) and John Barrasso (R-WY) capture the running theme of the environmental movement: “Requiring analysis of climate change impacts during the NEPA process . . . will slow our economic recovery while providing no meaningful environmental benefits.”

Environmental impacts should, without a doubt, be a concern for any new construction project, but the concerns should be about real environmental impacts – not how much big the carbon footprint of the project will be. This has all the making of becoming comically arbitrary but it won’t be comical to those paying for it.