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EDITORIAL: Speed up environmental protection process

By: The Gazette editorial board
September 10, 2017 Updated: September 12, 2017 at 9:59 am
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Farmer's hands holding a small tree on nature background (Photo from stanford.edu)

We should not drag our feet in protecting the environment, and new administration at the federal Department of Interior seems to agree.

State officials long ago told the public to sit down and wait. Improvements to the deadly stretch of I-25 between Monument and Castle Rock would take at least 10 years, largely for the sake of environmental protection.

Even if Colorado had the money, they told us, the federally mandated environmental impact statement would take years. After the public balked, state authorities commenced the study in 2016. The most optimistic completion date, for the study, is mid-2018.

Environmental extremists will use every trick possible to increase the cost and duration of the study. Even if the assessment goes smoothly, it could take longer than the anticipated construction.

That's just for a small stretch of I-25. Environmental impact statements have delayed most roads, bridges, pipelines and other projects longer than necessary to address legitimate environmental concerns.

Federally mandated environmental impact statements have become so inefficient they compromise public safety and render everyone to make due with crumbling roads, bridges and pipelines. Study delays were a major reason former President Barack Obama found there was no such thing as a "shovel-ready" project.

Money that could pay for construction is spent enriching lawyers and studying the interests of bugs and mice and generating reports so thick few have time to read them.

A review published by the journal Environmental Practice in 2008 assessed 2,095 federal environmental impact statements and found completion times ranged from 51 days to 18.4 years. The average was 3.4 years.

An announcement last week provides hope the sluggish studies will be streamlined.

Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, a Colorado native, announced an order that limits Interior Department environmental impact statements to one year and 150 pages. An exception will allow 300 pages for "unusually complex" projects.

The clock for the agency's environmental studies will begin upon notice of intent to issue a statement.

Bernhardt said the new policy respects an executive order President Donald Trump signed in August that mandates federal agencies give more timely approvals for public works projects.

A year should be adequate to ensure projects don't cause preventable harm to air, water, wildlife, flora and fauna.

Humans have good practical and moral reasons to assess the environmental effects of plans to disrupt the earth with massive projects. That does not mean we should tolerate opponents of growth and progress dragging out environmental studies, to delay or stop projects they don't like.

Other federal and state regulatory agencies should consider adopting the Interior Department's simple new limits on environmental impact statements. The Colorado Legislature and governor should consider a bill that imposes similar or identical restrictions on state environmental impact statements.

By safely speeding construction of public assets, we will improve safety, save money and create good "shovel-ready" jobs. We should protect the planet without abusing the process.

The Gazette editorial board

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