MINOT, N.D. — When we build major infrastructure projects, like highways or pipelines, it is absolutely necessary to include in the process a review of the potential environmental impacts.
At the federal level, this process is governed by what's called NEPA, or the National Environmental Policy Act. It's a roughly 50-year-old set of regulations requiring review of a project and public involvement in that review.
The problem with that process is that it can be manipulated to the point where it becomes a tortuous, open-ended gauntlet which makes actually building the infrastructure it's intended to regulate all but impossible. "Environmental groups, tribal activists and others have used the law to delay or block a slew of infrastructure, mining, logging and drilling projects since it was signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970," the Washington Post reports.
The Trump administration has taken steps to fix that.
The president is proposing a rule change which would narrow the definition of the sort of projects which are governed by this law, excluding those which are privately funded and have little government involvement.
The rule would also set deadlines and page limits in the process, the biggest impact of which will be a requirement that a review finishes within two years.
I wish these changes were being made to the law by Congress, through the legislative process, as opposed to an executive order which can be overturned easily by any future president, but the fact that Congress doesn't actually seem to govern anymore is a topic for another time.
That quibble aside, this is good policy.
If we want infrastructure like pipelines to be illegal — they're going to be the flashpoint in the debate over this policy change, there isn't much of a movement against building roads — then we should just ban them.
We're not going to do that because we're all using the oil and natural gas and fuels they carry, and pipelines are the safest way to carry those things.
If we're going to build pipelines, let's have a thorough process with a definitive finish line so they can be built safely without undue delay provoked by political extremists who would use bureaucratic red tape to try and keep oil and natural gas in the ground.
I'm not using the word "extremist" lightly. Believing that we should stop oil production immediately, something which would devastate our national economy and diminish the quality of life of every single American is an extreme position.
Using tactics like trespassing, vandalism and violence, such as we saw with the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline here in North Dakota, is also an extreme position. Even being sympathetic to those sort of tactics is extremism, frankly.
These extremist groups are already beginning to agitate against President Trump's rule change. Let's hope our political leaders tune them out.
We have a duty to ensure that infrastructure projects are built safely and responsibly. We do not have a duty to let factions of zealots impose their will on the rest of us by perverting a process, intended to facilitate responsible construction, so that it blocks any construction at all.
Keep that in mind the next time you turn on your gas-powered furnace or put gasoline in your car. The extremists I'm talking about want to block the development of more of those resources. They want to block the development of safe infrastructure to bring those resources to market for you to use, forcing us to rely on aging and insufficient pipelines.
That's not environmentalism. That's something else.
To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Listen to his Plain Talk Podcast and follow him on Twitter at @RobPort.