GAO Releases Audit of the National Environmental Policy Act
"This report substantiates concerns that the federal government has no system to track time or costs associated with NEPA, which is one of the most expansive regulatory laws in the country. The findings of this report are not insignificant and deserve to be given considerable attention and oversight moving forward. The National Environmental Policy Act is important for many reasons, however, I remain concerned about the exorbitant costs and delays associated with the process. I am also very troubled by the constant use of NEPA as a litigious weapon to halt or delay projects that wealthy special interest groups don't like. This report will be instrumental as we work toward finding solutions for some of the biggest problems plaguing this 70's-era law," said Bishop.
§ GAO report confirms that no reliable data exists on the costs of the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"). (pg. 1)
§ Agencies do not track the number of analyses performed each year required by NEPA. (pg. 6)
§ Agencies do not routinely track the total cost of performing analysis required under NEPA. (pg. 10)
§ According to the Department of Energy, the cost paid to contractors (not including Agency time and resources) for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) averages to $6.6 million but is as much as $85 million. (pg. 12)
§ Government-wide information is intended to be tracked by the EPA but GAO found this information to be inconsistent and unreliable. (pg. 8)
§ It takes an average of 4.6 years to complete an EIS. Data shows that between 2000 and 2012, the time taken to complete an EIS increased at an average rate of 34.2 days a year. (pg. 13)
Litigation and Delays:
§ GAO confirms that most plaintiffs are "public interest groups" defined by CEQ as "citizen groups and environmental nongovernmental organizations." (pg. 20 fn 42)
§ GAO confirms that one individual lawsuit can "affect numerous federal decisions" and have a "far-reaching impact". (pg. 19)
§ DOJ's Case Management System only tracks limited information on cases handled by the Environment and Natural Resources Division. (pg. 33)
§ When asked by Congressman Bishop and Chairman Hastings in May 2013 about the current status of NEPA litigation, the DOJ noted that between FY 2009 and March 2013 there were 1,022 cases open during that period and more than $22 million was spent on attorney fees for NEPA-related cases. The attorney fees do not include the money spent on agency staff and other case-related resources. (Information received September 25, 2013).