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Public Works v. ESA, NEPA, CWA etc

Sunday, December 7, 2008  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt

The president-elect is promising a massive public works campaign.

After 18 years as a natural resources lawyer, I can confidently say that no matter what the project and no matter who the sponsor, any major new public works project will be opposed by local environmental activists and usually by one or more of the big national groups as well. They have many weapons to use, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act not to mention state counterparts to all of these, and many more laws and regulations as well.

I often write about these issues, andI expect Obama’s push to be very good for my law practice as project proponents lawyer up to try and shepherd newly funded big ticket plans through the regulatory maze, but it is absurd to think of public works as an economic stimulus that will work quickly. The idea that major new projects will launch and get workers pouring concrete and building roads, bridges and ports simply ignores the knots that the environmental laws of the U.S. and the states have tied in the development process, and the bigger the project the bigger the knot.

Look, in southern California, the biggest public works project that could get underway quickly is a toll road in Orange County, planned for decades and ready to go.

Except environmentalists hate it and oppose progress on it at every step in the process.

Passionate no-growth activists or endangered species groups are not going to abandon their agendas because the economy needs a pop. If the president-elect wants public works to help the economy, the legislation authorizing those works is also going to have to reform the web of environmental laws that govern such undertakings.

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