Congressman Jason Smith, who represents Ste. Genevieve County as part of Missouri’s Eighth Congressional District, introduced H.R. 5594, the EMPOWERS Act of 2020, in the U.S. House of Representatives mandating federal agencies include local stakeholders’ input when making changes to the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In introducing the bill, Smith spoke about how these decisions disproportionately affect rural areas and the impact they have on our local communities.
“For too long, decisions about which species are protected by the Endangered Species Act have been decided by Washington bureaucrats without consulting any of the people in the communities they impact,” Smith said. “These burdensome regulations hamper critical infrastructure investments and stifle economic growth, and it cannot continue.”
The regulations Smith is referencing are the environmental assessments, which are required for proposed projects in areas where a species protected by the ESA are known to live. The assessments were mandated with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), enacted in 1970, to identify and evaluate the environmental impacts of such projects.
A report compiled in December 2018 noted that 60 percent of all environmental reviews for federal highway projects between 2010 and 2017 took more than six years to complete.
Earlier this month, during a ceremony at the White House, President Donald Trump announced his administration would be modernizing the NEPA regulations for the first time in over 40 years. Specifically, the president’s proposed changes include instituting time restrictions on the assessments to accelerate the process and clarifying the terms and directives to reduce duplicative efforts.
“We want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways bigger, better, faster,” Trump said. “These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers.”
Smith applauded Trump for his leadership.
“Rural communities already face unique economic challenges and the heavy hand of the federal government only makes these challenges harder, not easier,” Smith said. “The president is right to streamline this broken process, and I look forward to ensuring our rural communities are included more on rule making decisions in the future.”
Over the years in Ste. Genevieve County, there have been a series of projects delayed due to environmental assessments for various types of bats in the area. Specifically, the Indiana Bat, the Northern Long Eared Bat, and the Gray Bat are all protected by the ESA. Projects for economic growth, like the Holcim cement plant, to the construction of critical infrastructure, like bridges, have faced long delays stemming from environmental studies.
“It’s frustrating for us and costly because it takes time and money to do what’s required,” said Ste. Genevieve County Presiding Commissioner Garry Nelson in a news release from Smith’s office.
Smith’s legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on January 13 and was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources.
(Information from U.S. Representative Jason Smith’s office.)