It took just days for Democrats in the Senate to introduce and then approve $370 billion of climate-change spending, part of the Inflation Reduction Act, which President Joe Biden is expected to sign shortly after the House passes it. But clearing the necessary red tape to spend a cent of that money building any climate-related projects will in many cases take years.

Welcome to America’s horrendous process for issuing building permits, made famous by former President Barack Obama’s lament as his administration struggled to spend stimulus dollars during the Great Recession: “There’s no such thing as shovel-ready projects.”

The most onerous step for a major endeavor comes in the form of the environmental impact statement, which a federal agency must prepare whenever it takes action on or approves a project that will significantly impact the environment, as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. These statements take years to complete and run hundreds or thousands of pages. Upon completion, they instantly become targets for lawsuits from parties that want to stall a project’s progress by claiming some issue went overlooked.

The resulting delays cost America trillions of dollars, according to Common Good, a nonpartisan research organization with a bipartisan advisory board. Old infrastructure doesn’t get updated, newer and cleaner energy sources don’t get developed and, as a consequence, environmental quality is harmed, not helped.

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Oren Cass
Oren Cass is chief economist at American Compass.
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