As the effects of government regulations on roofing businesses have increased in recent years, NRCA has made the enactment of legislation designed to alleviate the regulatory burden one of its top priorities. After several years of work, it appears NRCA's efforts may come to fruition.
One of the most significant problems plaguing the current federal regulatory process is the Byzantine maze of approvals and legal challenges that must be navigated before many private and public development projects can proceed. The Hoover Dam was built in five years, and the Empire State Building took only one year and 45 days. But in the current era of excessive red tape, major construction projects can take years and even decades to obtain the required government regulatory approvals just to get started.
According to a 2014 report issued by the Government Accountability Office, in 2012, the average preparation time for environmental impact statements needed for federal permits was 4.6 years.
Every year, construction projects are stalled or cancelled because of a dysfunctional permitting process and a system that allows for limitless challenges by opponents, meaning millions of jobs are not created. For example, 351 stalled energy projects reviewed in one 2010 study conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce had an economic value of more than $1 trillion and represented 1.9 million jobs that were not created.
NRCA is working with Congress and allied groups to address this problem. In May, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs approved the Federal Permitting Improvement Act of 2015 (S. 280) by a vote of 12-1. This bipartisan legislation, authored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), will provide a streamlined process for developers to obtain environmental permits and approvals for their projects in a timely, efficient manner, allowing more jobs to be created and spurring greater levels of economic growth.
S. 280 would improve the environmental review and permitting process in numerous ways. It would establish new coordinating responsibilities among multiple agencies involved in environmental reviews and allow state-level environmental reviews to be used in some circumstances to avoid needless duplication by federal reviewers. The bill also would require agencies to involve themselves early in the process, avoiding eleventh-hour objections that can restart the review timetable.
Additionally, the bill would establish a streamlined process for determining the scope of project alternatives and would create an online dashboard to track projects during the permitting process. Finally, it would reduce the statute of limitations to challenge an environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act from the current six years to 150 days.
These reforms represent a practical approach that builds on successful provisions of previously enacted laws for environmental review management. Ensuring the government works faster and more efficiently significantly will benefit the U.S economy and construction sector.
Now that S. 280 has been approved by a Senate committee, it is expected to be considered by the full Senate sometime this year or in early 2016. Given the bill has strong bipartisan support, it is expected to pass the Senate. Companion legislation (H.R. 348) authored by Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.) and Colin Peterson (D-Minn.) has been introduced in the House, where it is also expected to be approved. The Obama administration has indicated it generally is supportive of this legislation.
Given this scenario, it appears the Federal Permitting Improvement Act could be enacted into law sometime within the next year. Once enacted, it should immediately start providing benefits to the U.S. economy. In an era of legislative gridlock and hyper-partisanship, this would be a significant victory for NRCA and other business groups supporting this bill.
Congressional approval of S. 280 also could help pave the way for progress of other regulatory reform bills supported by NRCA, most critically the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA). This more ambitious bill would mitigate adverse regulatory effects on businesses by injecting greater transparency and accountability for government agencies into the outdated federal regulation development process.
Passage of these two regulatory reform bills and related initiatives will positively transform regulatory policy. NRCA will continue to make regulatory reform legislation a priority in the coming year.
Duane L. Musser is NRCA's vice president of government relations.