People in agriculture, timber, oil and gas, and mining have to deal with environmental regulations and their onerous restrictions. At the federal government level there are the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), Endangered Species Act (ESA), Clean Water Act (CWA), and other regulations on wetlands and wildlife habitat. In addition there are state and local regulations.
Sometimes environmental regulations simply prevent a project from happening with outright denial of permits or rejection of economically viable alternatives in NEPA analyses. Other projects are not denied or rejected, but are delayed by environmental regulations and the lawsuits that often accompany them.
Environmental impact statements (required under NEPA) can take five or more years to complete, and are often followed by lengthy lawsuits. Time is money, so such delays can be costly in income, jobs, and production of resources.
For example, permitting for proposed mines in northwest Montana has been delayed for more than 20 years because of lawsuits about potential impacts to grizzly bears and the ESA. Some species, like the grizzly bear and spotted owl, have been on the ESA list for decades. Environmental groups constantly make lawsuits to keep species like the grizzly bear listed under the ESA even as their populations continue to increase.
Endangered species listings then facilitate lawsuits to stop or delay mining, logging, oil and gas, irrigation and grazing. You are probably familiar with other projects delayed for years by regulations and lawsuits, like the Pebble Mine in Alaska, and the Keystone Pipeline in the Dakotas. Several books have been written describing specific cases of the negative impacts and delays caused by environmental laws and regulations (see references).
For perspective, consider two projects that were completed relatively quickly: the Alaska Highway and World War II. I suppose World War II was not a “project,” but it illustrates my point about the time taken to complete a major enterprise.
For the U.S., World War II began with the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, HI. The war ended with the surrender of Japan on Sept. 2, 1945. That’s three years and nine months. Germany surrendered May 8, 1945, three years and five months after the Pearl Harbor attack.
Although I’m sure the war seemed like an eternity to those involved, it was pretty fast compared to a lot of environmental permitting nowadays. The Alaska Highway ran 1,700 miles from Delta Junction, AK, to Dawson Creek, British Columbia, Canada, when it was built in 1942.
It is now 1,387 miles with improvements and some re-routing since the original construction. An Alaska Highway was discussed by the U.S. and Canada in the 1920s and 1930s, but was not approved for construction until the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Construction began March 9, 1942 with crews working from the north and from the south. On Sept. 24, 1942, crews from both directions met at Mile 588 at what became known as Contact Creek at the British Columbia-Yukon border at the 60th parallel. The entire route was completed Oct. 28, 1942. That’s seven-and-a-half months.
This shows what can be done with a focused effort and no environmental delays. There was no NEPA, ESA, or CWA in 1942, but I suspect that if these laws existed at that time they would have been suspended for the war effort.
Realizing that NEPA was causing undue delays to projects, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt in the Trump administration attempted to streamline the process, mandating a time limit of one to two years and a limit of 150 pages for environmental impact statements.
This reform did not change or weaken environmental laws or regulations—it just made the process faster. It remains to be seen what the Biden administration does with NEPA and other environmental regulations, but hopefully it continues the efforts to shorten the time required for these processes.
In any event, it’s amazing that we could win a World War in two major theaters (Europe and the Pacific) in less than four years, and build 1,700 miles of road through wilderness and across mountains and large rivers in less than one year. I think the same determination and can-do attitude that resulted in these successes can be re-instilled in American agriculture and natural resource industry.
Delays and denials of projects because of unnecessarily lengthy environmental reviews and lawsuits should not be allowed. Ranchers, farmers, timbermen, oilmen, and miners know how to follow rules and maintain environmental quality. They should be permitted to do so in a timely manner.
Reminding politicians and government officials of the speed with which we won World War II and built the Alaska Highway might motivate them to speed up environmental permitting. State governors and legislators and county commissioners could be effective in pressuring the federal government in this regard. — Dr. Matthew Cronin
(Matthew Cronin was a research professor at the University of Alaska, a U.S. Coast Guard officer, and is now at Northwest Biology Company LLC [www.northwestbiology.com] in Bozeman, MT. He can be reached at email@example.com.)
Anderson, T.L. Editor. 2000. Political Environmentalism: Going Behind the Green Curtain. Hoover Institution Press, Stanford University, Stanford CA.
Andre, J. 2011. U.S.A. vs E.S.A. The Politically Incorrect Side of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.Published by John Andre, Hamilton, Montana. ISBN-13: 978-1466431393
Arnold, R. 2007. Freezing in the Dark: Money, Politics and the Vast Left Wing Conspiracy. Merril Press. Bellevue, Washington.
Chase, A. 1987. Playing God in Yellowstone. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Orlando Florida.
Chase, A. 1995. In a Dark Wood: The Fight Over Forests and the Rising Tyranny of Ecology. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston and New York.
Coffman, M. 1994. Saviors of the Earth? The Politics and Religion of the Environmental Movement.Northfield Publishing, Chicago, Illinois.
Crockford, S.J. 2019. The Polar Bear Catastrophe that Never Happened. The Global Warming Policy Foundation, London, United Kingdom.
Cronin, M.A. 2021. Wildlife, Endangered Species, and Science. Matthew A. Cronin, Produced and distributed by Liberty Hill Publishing, Maitland, Florida.
Cronin, M.A. 2021. Wildlife, War, and God: Insights on science and government. Second Edition. Matthew A. Cronin, Produced and distributed by Liberty Hill Publishing, Maitland, Florida. First edition published in 2019.
Fitzsimmons, A.K. 1999. Defending Illusions: Federal Protection of Ecosystems. Rowman & Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland.
Horner, C.C. 2007. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism. Regnery, Washington, D.C.
Lomborg, B. 2001. The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom.
Lyon, T.B. and W.N. Graves. 2014. The Real Wolf.L. Grosskopf and N. Morrison editors. Published by T.B. Lyon, and distributed by Farcountry Press, Helena, Montana.
Mann, C.C. and M.L. Plummer. 1995. Noah’s Choice: The Future of Endangered Species. Alfred A. Knopf. New York.
Pombo, R. and J. Farah. 1996. This Land is our Land: How to End the War on Private Property. St. Martin’s Press, New York.
Sanera, M. and J.S. Shaw. 1996. Facts not Fear: A Parent’s Guide to Teaching Children about the Environment. Regnery, Washington, D.C.
Stirling, M.D. 2008. Green Gone Wild. Merril Press, Bellevue, Washington.