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Sullivan Speaks on Biden’s Burdensome NEPA Rules


07.28.22

WASHINGTON—Madam President, today, actually, I want to talk about the Americans of the century, the Americans of the century. This is an iconic, iconic picture of the men–and, of course, women–who built our great Nation: the working families, the union members who built our great Nation, won World War II.

This is, by the way, the Empire State Building. Some of our workers built that. I want to talk about that here in a minute. They are having a little bit of lunch. But these are the workers who built America, certainly helped us win World War II: the machinists, electricians, welders, builders. 

And, Madam President, next week, my colleagues are going to be put to the test, and it is going to be a simple test. It is a question that is a really important one right now: Where do you stand? Do you stand with the working men and women of this great Nation, the ones who built our country and their incredible heritage of building America, or do you stand with the coastal elites–represented by this individual–who are actually focused on not building the country but in many ways shutting it down?

Well, I will tell you where I stand. I stand right here with the men and women who have built this great Nation.

Here is what is going to happen next week. I am bringing together a joint resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act, what we call a CRA, that will be a simple vote to nullify a recent Biden administration regulation that clearly is going to make it harder in America to build infrastructure projects–to build buildings, to build energy projects. These regulations will waste taxpayer dollars, but the biggest thing they will do is they will prevent workers from working and building the country.

So that is it. We are going to have a simple vote on whether you stand with the people who take a shower before work or the people who take a shower after work, the people who spend their day holding tools to build things or holding lattes–the people with dirt under their fingernails. 

The vote will answer the question posed by the late folk singer Pete Seeger: Which side are you on? Now, right now, there are 50 Republican Senators who are on the side of the working men and women. They cosponsored my resolution. So let’s talk a little bit about the background of what we are going to vote on next week. 

This is a very famous structure in America, the Hoover Dam, and it is part of a great American tradition that we are all proud of–every single American–that we used to build big things: our roads, our dams, our ports, our bridges, our pipelines. We built engineering marvels in the world, a source of immense pride for all Americans. The Hoover Dam–look at that–5 years–actually, less than 5 years–to build that dam. The Empire State Building, you just saw a picture of men and women building that. It took 410 days to build the Empire State Building. The Pentagon, the biggest office building in the world: 16 months. 

Let me talk a little bit closer to home. The 1,700-mile Alaska-Canada Highway, through some of the world’s most rugged terrain: 11 months. We did that. America did that. Workers did that. The Trans-Alaska Pipeline–think of this: 70,000 sections of 48-inch-wide pipe, joined and laid–70,000 sections–across three mountain ranges, 800 riverbeds, tundra, forests, lakes, from the Arctic Ocean to the Pacific–800 miles–3 years. Incredible.

The American worker can build anything, can build anything. And then the engineering. We put a man on the Moon in less than 10 years. We used to do big things, big infrastructure. And the men and women of America have always been the best, most productive workers in the country.

Well, that is no longer, unfortunately, the legacy of America. And here is part of what is going to happen next week. Let me talk a little bit of a background issue here. And I know some of my colleagues aren’t going to like to hear it, but the Democratic Party was once home to these great American workers. That is true. 

My family was part of this tradition–Irish-Catholic immigrants, Democrats. My great-grandfather Frank J. Sullivan was one of the founding members of the IBEW, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. He passed on the values of hard work throughout his family. And the Democratic Party long supported the union members, the workers who built not just America but the middle class. And I think that is a proud tradition. I think that is a proud tradition–certainly something that my family was part of. But that has been abandoned. 

Right now, the focus is much more on coastal, progressive elites and what they want versus what these men and women want. That was yesterday’s Democratic Party. You are seeing headlines more like this:

“The Democrats’ Working Class Voter Problem.” That is a headline from the Democratic ally blog titled “The Liberal Patriot.”

Newsweek: “Democrats Have Forgotten the Working Class.”

Here is a doozy from the Economist recently: Democrats in America are realizing they must moderate or die. 

Now, some attribute this problem to cultural issues. As James Carville said “Wokeness is a problem.”

Cultural issues, wokeness, and all that implies are certainly issues driving the working class away from the Democratic Party. But I believe the problems that the Democrats are having with the working class run much deeper than wokeness. I believe they are structural. And at the end of the day, they are pocketbook issues. One issue that impacts everybody, but especially America’s workers, is the regulatory system–the permitting system that we have in America. 

It hurt so much of our country. But I will tell you who it really hurts: the men and women who build things. They are on the ground. They see their projects being delayed when they are killed. They are the ones who get the pink slips when there is endless litigation on a resource development project in Alaska. They are the ones worrying about feeding their families because they don’t have good work because they can’t build things anymore. They are the ones who are attacked by the far left because they produce things like American energy, which we all need. 

We live in a nation now that is increasingly divided into two countries: one of builders and doers, of working men and women, of working families, and the other side that soaks up the spoils of those workers and then figures out ways to make their job even harder, oftentimes resulting in putting them out of work altogether.

And I have seen this time and time again in my State–in my State. When these men and women try to build things–and there is a choice with my Democratic colleagues between the coastal elites who want to shut things down and the men and women in America who want to build things–unfortunately, the default position for them is the coastal elites, forsaking the working men and women of our country. 

So why am I so animated by this? It is because our great Nation that built so many great things is now caught up in redtape. It is now caught up in redtape. So I want to talk a little bit more about my resolution and the vote we are going to have next Wednesday, or next Tuesday. The National Environmental Policy Act was a good idea when it passed in late 1969. It required environmental impact statements when things were being built so the public could be engaged. 

That act, called NEPA, resulted in people participating in the permitting process but not overburdening it. So normally, a NEPA Environmental Impact Statement–an EIS–at the beginning, when it was first passed, would take less than a year, a couple hundred pages. That was it.

Now you look at the system in America. To try to build things, the average EIS takes 4 to 6 years to just complete–4 to 6 years to just complete. And it usually costs several million dollars just to build anything in this country. That wasn’t the purpose of NEPA. We are killing ourselves as a nation with our inability to build infrastructure because we are tangled up in redtape. 

In his recent reporting, the progressive New York Times writer Ezra Klein looks at the cost of building things in America relative to other industrialized countries. Klein writes that Japan, Canada, and Germany build a kilometer of rail for $170 million, $254 million, and $287 million, respectively. That seems like a lot, until you get to the United States. One kilometer costs $538 million, way more than any other industrialized country. Delays are costs. Of course, we know that.

According to the GAO–and this is a study several years ago; I am sure it is much worse–a new U.S. highway construction project, just to build a highway normally takes 9 to 19 years. 

Come on, America. We built the Alcan Highway, 1,100 miles, in 11 months.

This is a topic that I am very passionate about. It sounds kind of geeky. Permitting, rules, regulations–it is the core of our economy, and it is the core of what is keeping so many working families down.

Let me give you a couple of other examples. The new–not new now–recently expanded runway at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport took about 3 years to build. We had a hearing on the Commerce Committee. I asked the head of the Sea-Tac Airport, “How long did it take you to get the permits before you could build that?” New runway, Sea-Tac needs it. He looked at me, and he said “Senator, 15 years.”

Fifteen years to get permits to do a runway expansion at Sea-Tac Airport.

He actually said:

By the time we got the permits and the construction time, almost 20 years. I think that the ancient Egyptians would have built the pyramids by then.

This is what we are talking about. Every State, every city, every community sees this problem.

Let me give you a couple of other examples. The Gross Reservoir in Colorado, which is going to offer clean water to all the people of Colorado, has taken two decades–20 years–to get this project permitted. California’s bullet train that they are still working on–approved in the late 1990s–is still not built because of permitting delays. The costs have gone from $33 billion to $105 billion.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and West Virginia, trying to transport natural gas–litigation is stopping that. 

Of course, in Alaska, we are ground zero for a lot of this. The Kensington Mine right now is producing gold for our country. Hundreds of people are working there. The average wage is $110,000. Those are good jobs. Twenty years to permit that line, if you include the litigation–20 years.

Here is how James Callahan, great American worker, president of the International Union of Operating Engineers–the men and women who really build America, the operating engineers–put it in a letter supporting my resolution next week. You can see it right here. He nails it:

Since its modest beginnings, NEPA has evolved into a massive edifice, capable of destroying project after project– 

Destroying, not helping– 

job after job, in virtually every sector of the economy.

He goes on: 

Dilatory strategies employed by project opponents frequently exploit provisions in NEPA, weighing down projects, frustrating communities, and raising costs to the point that many applicants, whether public or private, simply walk away.

By the way, when I talk about the coastal elites–the radical environmental groups–that is their goal, to use NEPA to just kill projects. And they are really, really good at that.

So what happens, as James Callahan says–when that happens, when the applicants simply walk away–well, we know what happens. Work dries up. Layoffs happen. The dignity of work and hope that can lift entire communities dissipates. Families struggle. Communities struggle. 

When we talk about good-paying jobs in our country, we are talking about so much more than men and women punching a clock. We are talking about the health of families, the pride in communities, the pride in our country. 

Look at the pride of those men and women who built the Empire State Building, the pride of men and women who built the Alaska pipeline. We see it over and over again that communities without hope, without an economic future, without good-paying jobs, who get crushed by these burdensome regulations and groups that want to shut them down, are much more prone to experiencing violence, crime, succumbing to kinds of huge challenges like the opioid crisis. 

And so these issues matter across the country. But, again, they matter to working families more than anyone. 

So what are we going to do next week? Well, a surprise to me–and I must admit, it was a surprise; I came down here and talked about this a while ago–was that during the negotiations for the infrastructure bill that many of us voted on–I voted for it last year, in part because it had really good provisions–not as good as I would have wanted–but on permitting reform. These built on what I worked on with the Trump administration when they put out regulations as it related to building infrastructure that, by the way, was supported by millions and millions of Americans for the reasons I just talked about: streamlining permitting, getting projects online, not so costly. 

So some of the NEPA reforms that we got in the infrastructure bill were things that we had built on during the Trump administration. Let me give you a couple of examples: one Federal agency in charge of all regulatory decisions, timelines on NEPA, limitations on the pages required by NEPA. These were commonsense reforms that we worked on with the Trump administration and some of which we got into the infrastructure bill.

So imagine, this is supposedly Joe Biden’s top legislative achievement–4 months ago, kind of under the radar, the White House, the Biden White House–counts on environmental quality–put out new regulations.

And here is the Wall Street Journal’s editorial on what these new regulations were meant to do. And anyone who has read them–and I encourage all Americans to read them–these regulations have one goal in mind: slowing down the ability to build American infrastructure, especially American energy infrastructure.

The new NEPA regulations from the Biden White House make it harder to build our country, when the President supposedly supported the infrastructure bill. I truly wonder if the President has any clue that his White House issued regs to undermine what we all viewed as a very important bipartisan achievement.

Now, I gave a speech a couple of weeks ago saying: How did this happen? How are we killing infrastructure on the sly through these regulations when, supposedly, this administration wants to build infrastructure, wants to support the working men and women of our country?

My view is like a lot of things. John Kerry, Gina McCarthy were probably behind it, but who the heck knows. But here is what I do know. The only people who like these rules–the rules that are meant to slow down the building of American infrastructure–are certainly not the working men and women of America; it is the radical environmental groups, probably the trial lawyers. And I will give you another group that loves it when we do this to ourselves: the Chinese Communist Party. They look at us and go: Holy cow, these Americans can’t get out of their own way. Nine years to permit a bridge. This is killing us in terms of competitiveness. Mayors don’t like these rules.

So what we are going to do next week, my Congressional Review Act resolution is very simple. It says, we are going to rescind this Biden rule that is going to make it harder to build American infrastructure.

And here is the thing: Right now, we have a very big list of groups that are supporting my resolution. We got all the building trades of America; the operating engineers; the AFL-CIO of Alaska; the Laborers’ International, LIUNA–the biggest construction union in America; and so many groups–farmers, independent business men and women. Dozens of groups are supporting our resolution to say we are not going to allow that. We want to build things. We want to build things.

President Biden likes to talk about his supposed blue collar roots. Well, I wonder where the President is going to be on my resolution because all the unions in America that build stuff are supporting it. Again, maybe he didn’t even know his White House put it out there. Maybe he wants to support my Congressional Review Act resolution. 

But I will tell you who this resolution is going to be really good for. It is going to be good for these men and women in America who built this country, who built this country. 

I will end where I began. Next week, there is going to be a big vote here, a simple vote. I have 50 Republicans who cosponsored my resolution to get rid of the Biden administration regulation that is going to kill infrastructure. If you support the building trades and the labor unions who built America, you are going to vote yes on my resolution. If you support infrastructure for America and building it in a timely fashion, you are going to vote yes on my resolution. If you support American energy that we need so much in our country, that we have right here, that we don’t need to import from Saudi Arabia or Russia or Iran or Venezuela, you are going to support my resolution. If you support the men and women who actually build this country, all of whom who are supporting my resolution, you are going to support my resolution.

But if you stand with the coastal environmental elites who want to shut down this country, shut down my State, shut down the economy, maybe you will vote the other way. Like I said in the beginning, it is going to be a test next week. Whose side are you on? Are you with these men and women and their heritage and their heroism who built this country, or are you going to be standing with this individual, the epitome of arrogant coastal elite, smugly telling Americans that they shouldn’t build energy projects?

I know where I am standing next week. I am standing with the great men and women who built this country, the great men and women who continue to build this country, the great men and women who are supporting my resolution. And I sure hope all my colleagues vote the same way. This is an easy vote for America. This should be 100 to 0. That is the reason why. 

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