From: Matthew Daly, Associated Press
Published August 1, 2006 12:00 AM

House Report Calls for Changes to Environmental Law

WASHINGTON — Congress should change federal law to make it harder to bring lawsuits that can delay new roads, logging or other projects for years, a House task force said Monday.

The task force recommended at least 20 changes to a landmark environmental law, but did not present draft legislation, and GOP leaders say they do not expect to offer a bill this year.

Republican leaders have been looking for ways to streamline the 36-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which serves as the basis for federal management of public lands.

The GOP-dominated task force issued its final report Monday after studying the issue for more than a year.

The panel's chairwoman, Rep. Cathy McMorris, R-Wash., said it was premature to offer a bill, adding that she did not want the effort to get caught up in election-year politics.

"I want to work to increase awareness and build coalitions that recognize there's room for improvements," McMorris said.

The 23-page report, prepared by Republican staff of the House Resources Committee, recites a familiar litany of complaints, mostly involving delays associated with NEPA. The report notes that speakers at a series of public hearings said that lawsuits, or even threatened lawsuits, often add years and millions of dollars to a new road, housing development or logging project.

One way to prevent delays is to narrow the definition of what constitutes a major federal action, which under the law requires lengthy study and public comment before moving forward, the report said. All too often, projects that are not major are treated as if they were, it said.

"One of our major findings was that so often NEPA is used as a means to take something to court," McMorris said, calling lawsuits an unintended consequence of the landmark law, signed in 1970 by President Nixon.

"It's my goal to move NEPA from being such a confrontational law to one where there's more collaboration," McMorris said.

Jim Zoia, Democratic staff director of the Resources panel, called the report virtually meaningless. Legislation creating the task force expired months ago, so the report has no official standing, he said.

The report was prepared without input from Democrats, Zoia said, questioning the good faith of task force leaders. The GOP-led Resources panel has repeatedly approved legislation "waiving NEPA, modifying NEPA, gutting NEPA," he said. "So it's passing strange to make recommendations on what the committee may want to consider to do with NEPA, when one bill after another is reported out that (in effect) repealed NEPA."

Source: Associated Press

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