The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) was signed into law in November, 2021, but many projects may still face long delays in getting started because of the federal permitting process.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., pointed out that issue during a hearing held Tuesday regarding the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s proposed fiscal year 2024 budget.

Capito is Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, which held the hearing.

“We have discussed in previous hearings the frustrations that I’ve had with the delays that consultation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) has added to projects in West Virginia and elsewhere,” she told Fish and Wildlife Director Martha Williams. “Our state Department of Transportation has faced delays in road and bridge projects. Our Department of Environmental Protection has dealt with delays in consultation on not only active mining permits, but also on projects to remediate our abandoned mine sites through the AML (Abandoned Mine Land) program.”

Local government officials have also been frustrated with delays to water and sewer projects, she added, and “private industry has faced delays due to a backlog of ESA consultation requests.”

Capito specifically addressed section 7 of the Endangered Species Act, which requires federal agencies to consult with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries when any action the agency involved in any project that impacts either a species listed as threatened or endangered under the Act, or any critical habitat designated for it.

“Section 7 consultations under the Endangered Species Act are the poster child for project delays and bureaucratic roadblocks in the federal environmental review and permitting process,” she said. “Fairly or not, other federal agencies often cite the slow Section 7 consultations as the justification for not advancing their own permitting processes. This administration continues to blame these delays solely on a lack of funding and staffing.”

Capito said West Virginia “state agencies, the private sector, and even other federal agencies are funding positions at the Service’s Field Office in Elkins. This feels like West Virginians are kind of getting taxed twice to do the same work that the Service does. We even experience delays with getting the very paperwork in place that establishes cooperative agreements for my state’s agencies to even use the taxpayer dollars to fund staff for the Field Office.”

On Wednesday, Capito again addressed the problems in the federal permitting process as the EPW Committee held its second hearing of the year on the need to substantively reform America’s “broken permitting and environmental review processes.”

Part of that reform relates to litigation.

“Even if a project sponsor successfully makes it through, or even if they make it through three different times under administrations of both parties, as with the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP) in my state, they often hit more roadblocks, litigation,” she said. “Activists opposed to building any new projects are standing at the ready with a lawsuit to add further delays and costs in the hope of killing a project or inflicting so much pain that a project sponsor will give up, eliminating jobs, tax revenues, and economic resilience in the process.”

The MVP, which would carry natural gas from West Virginia to Chatham, Va., and beyond, is about 94 percent complete and was slated to be online by late 2018, but protests and court cases continue to delay its completion.

“The processes have become a bureaucratic, confusing maze,” Capito said during the hearing. “The red tape, regulatory hurdles, and endless court battles faced by businesses slow and sometimes altogether stop critical projects.”

She said the American people are the ones who pay the price.

“These are the big-ticket projects, the ones that would provide affordable energy to a whole region of the country, create new construction jobs and permanent positions in manufacturing, or connect rural communities with new roads,” she said. “Those aren’t examples pulled out of thin air. The Mountain Valley Pipeline, the Nucor steel mill, and Corridor H, are examples of each type of project being held up by bureaucracy or litigation, and those are just pulled from my home state.”

But Capito and fellow Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and John Barrasso, R-Wyo., have all introduced legislation to reform the permitting process and are working now through hearings to come up with a plan all can agree on.

“To truly modernize our environmental review and permitting processes, we must actually amend the underlying statutes like NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act), the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act,” she said. “We need enforceable deadlines on environmental reviews, not ‘goals’ and soft aspirational schedules that can be changed on a whim by agencies that require constant oversight to achieve. Most importantly, we need to modernize these processes for all types of projects.”

Capito said “pitting renewable projects against fossil, pipelines against transmission, even different transportation projects against each other, will not strengthen our economy nor benefit our environment, but only lead to more political bickering in Congress and among industries jockeying to be favored in the process.”

But to accomplish anything, everyone must find a way to be on the same page.

“This is an issue that should be approached with common sense and a bipartisan spirit,” she said. “It is time for us to work together to find common ground and implement meaningful reforms to bring these processes up to date to address the challenges we face today. By working together, we can find solutions that benefit both our economy and our environment, while still ensuring that projects are held to high standards of safety and environmental protection.”