Environmental impact statements can do great harm

In pursuit of federal approval for the nation’s first congestion pricing scheme, the one officials suggested would launch in January 2021, the question was this: Should New York State and New York City conduct a quick “environmental assessment” or a full scale “environmental impact statement,” a process that could take years?

Federal officials didn’t provide a definitive answer in that meeting, nor have they since.

That haziness puts MTA officials, and the massive system-wide rehabilitation plan whose funding is reliant on congestion pricing, in a serious bind.

Here is the full story, via Austin V.

Comments

Of course, the opponents of congestion pricing are the opponents of transit: congestion pricing runs the risk of inducing support for transit. I'll resist making a comment about air taxis.

Yes. So many opponents of "transit." Great point by you.

Transit is a boondoggle. The system does not and can not pay for itself. It wastes huge amounts of money and every project is a multi-million dollar gift to unions and union workers. It is a drag on productive people and an endless source of graft and corruption. It claims to solve a problem but only serves 1% while using 20% or more of the available funding.

Amortization makes expensive cheap. The Holland Tunnel, for example, was expensive to build but it's been there almost a century and will probably be there a century from now (assuming Star Trek beaming doesn't become a thing).

Apples to oranges comparison. Spending an extra $100M on 'waste' building a bridge is probably not as bad as spending $5M extra a year because we decide to be lax on maintaining the roads.

I'm assuming you're referring to mass transit. Mass transit is not typically supposed to pay for itself through fares; it pays for itself through increased economic activity, reduced traffic in congested areas, and increased mobility. In areas that utilize sustainable fleets, it is also a good way of increasing transit sustainability and reducing hazardous emissions. It also encourages construction of buildings rather than parking lots, which feeds into the local economy and increases density.

Tax money spent on road construction is usually exactly what you described: expensive gifts to specific contractors and/or industries rife with corruption. Roadwork is planned politically rather than practically, so repairs are pushed down the line while new roads are given tens of millions every year, even when the new roads don't necessarily make sense objectively. Road construction also has a tendency to encourage driving, which directly relates to increased traffic, the associated emissions and urban sprawl.

I understand someone coming from outside a city not believing that mass transit makes sense, but there is a huge population that lives in areas dense enough for mass transit to make a huge positive impact on daily life, economic vibrancy and sustainability. A quick search finds that approximately 5% of all Americans commute via public transportation. That number goes up in cities. In New York City, over 30% of the population uses public transportation for their daily commute, for instance.

I'm having trouble finding a good comparison of spending, but the CBO shows public spending on roads at approx. 180 billion per year, and 'mass transit and rail" at just under 80 billion. That number isn't terribly helpful though, since it includes a lot of non-mass transit rail lines and facilities.

Of course, NYCTA public transit is funded by fares (BUT estimated each day 250,000 jump turnstiles and/or refuse to pay bus fares; and no one will/can do anything about it), gasoline and general tax revenues, and certain bridge and tunnel tolls. Evidently, opponents of public transit have no power to cut transit funding.

Mike Got It Done. In his 12 miraculous years, he made NYC Number One in per-taxpayer debt load, now at $63,100. Chicago is a distant second at $37,100 per taxpayer. Of course, Chicago is not losing taxpayers at the same rate as NYC.

"The Trump administration has said it wants to speed up the environmental review process generally, but it has also dragged its feet when it comes to completing a review for the region’s most important infrastructure project — a new tunnel under the Hudson River."

More incompetence from the most incontinent administration ever.

Here's the NYT story, which emphasizes the political battle between Trump and New York: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/25/nyregion/-trump-congestion-pricing-nyc.html

Working as designed.

What is the worst case environmental outcome that could occur from the scheme? Surely a quick assessment can answer this question and help determine whether a full-scale assessment is proportionate.

It does seem like something that would have a quick bounce test. Congestion pricing should lead to less driving, which should lead to less pollution.

Maybe someone can think of a creative reason that congestion pricing should lead to more driving, but I don't see it.

Congestion pricing keeps poor people from commuting to the city. So they find jobs commuting suburb to suburb. It depends on how they substitute for the thing you've taxed, and it's not completely obvious how they'll do that. The worst case is that all the people who no longer drive into the city go and do something worse.

Are the poor *driving* to the city?

As a commuter, it certainly seems like it.

Anyway, you didn't ask others to conclusively prove some alternative was true, you asked for a creative reason an alternative might occur. There are lots of alternative adjustments. Maybe they'll take the bus more and that's worse for the environment than driving in cars. Maybe they'll lose their jobs, go on the dole, and require even more environmentally unfriendly activity to pay for their welfare.

It's not completely obvious congestion pricing would have the intended effect. Unintended consequences are the rule rather than the exception with regulation, so you should be careful.

Besides, who is congestion pricing supposed to deter, if not the poor? As a guy who earns a regular paycheck, congestion pricing sounds great to me. I'm not the one it's going to force off the roads.

You’re not being anywhere near cynical enough.

Environmental impact requirements, like zoning, are all about throwing in additional veto opportunities.

I think the people with knee jerk answers, opposing environmental regulation, have not quite put things in context.

This is Donald Trump's EPA, unable to give the easy answer.

And in terms of environmental impact, the US department of transportation already says there is a positive effect.

https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/congestionpricing/resources/enviro_benefits.htm

If only there was some sort of amendment we could write that would leave the powers not delegated to the federal government to the individual states. Maybe you could suggest such an amendment to the representatives and senators of New York. Being as congestion pricing isn’t really a purview of Nixon’s EPA.

Did you just rant that environmental impact requirements have nothing to do with environmental regulations?

Note that on that page the department of transportation calls out this specific program as environmentally beneficial.

How can they possibly know that without a full scale environmental impact statement?

"Environmental impact requirements, like zoning, are all about throwing in additional veto opportunities."

Absolutely. I'd merely say the obverse, they are used to defend property.

Well, good. Let such localities drown in their own inefficiencies. The US alone has sufficient space to accommodate new localities, or older and bigger. NY, LA, Chicago are local problems. Let them cope themselves.

You poor deluded fool. See I-280 and the Oakland-Bay Bridge. These have nothing to do with protecting the environment.

A quick assessment will require several dozen specialists and several thousands of person-hours. The costs--once you include field work, subcontracting, document reviews, tribal input, and the rest--will be in the millions. It may not seem like it, but when you dig into the details of the laws that's what's needed.

For that matter, in my experience usually an Environmental Assessment is used to determine which resources can be written off as "No Further Action"; an EIR is still required.

Source: 12 years in the environmental compliance/remediation industry, including assisting in several dozen EIR/EIS documents and Environmental Assessments. Not in New York, but in a variety of Red and Blue states.

Well the first problem is that we can't get to that without federal approval to do the lighter investigation.

But in terms of "millions," what are those when mere presidential candidates personally have billions?

The fact that some people have more money in no way negates the fact that environmental compliance is expensive. I'm not even sure what the point of that was, other than "Rich people bad!"

To give you an example of why these costs can be problematic, look at regulatory capture. Large companies with deep pockets can afford to pay these costs, while small start-up companies can't--and the big companies know this. They use environmental regulation to attack competition. Not speculation here, I've seen it happen.

There's also the fact that no one listens to these documents anyway. I sat in a meeting once where a client told their workers "We paid for take of [endangered species], so I don't want to hear that work stopped because one was on the site; just run it over and keep moving." The regulator went ballistic, but ultimately had very little ground to stand on. Basically the client had factored the fees and fines into the cost of doing the project, and was using the EIR/EIS to figure out what the costs would be. In the USA, we call them fees and fines; in third-world countries they'd be called bribes; the end result is the same.

Interesting info. But weird; ADA compliance doesn't work in that way.

I don't get this framing. It seems a problem with Administration competence rather than environmental testing.

Perhaps we don't want a government led by the uninterested

Half of your posts read like when my 86 year old Mom comes home from grocery shopping all concerned and I have to tell her not to worry about the headlines she saw at the checkout counter.

Well maybe you should tell me what your goal is here.

Just an observation. Unless that's really you, Mom, then we'll need to adjust your meds.

"It seems a problem with Administration competence"

Yes, by the MTA and the State of New York.

They could have been half way [or more] done with the study if they made a decision on their own.

I don't think this is anymore the America I knew and used to love.

I don't even understand why they need an environmental impact statement for a congestion pricing scheme.

Completely agreed.

To create veto opportunities. This was clearly explained to you above.

At 72 with my memory intact, I remember the reason Nixon created environmental impact statements: to speed up projects.

As if eliminating proactive review will stop lawsuits blocking projects for court reviews. Or better yet, stop court victories causing project work to be undone.

I find the "law and liberty" advocacy of eliminating the EPA and resolving problems in court under common law public nuisance tort cases to somehow see the 60s as the golden years of virtuous endless court cases to get projects blocked, modified, and local courts creating new common law.

Of course, more legislation was passed to block or enable projects then, followed by lawsuits.

And the use of courts was just getting started. Conservatives have honed the engine generating torts since. And changed what it means to "conserve".

In the 60s, the effort was to conserve virtue.

Now it's to conserve hate, bigotry, suffering, harm, and block even past progress.

Is Thiago mulp? If he is, I have an entirely new level of respect for that genius.

"That haziness puts MTA officials, ... in a serious bind."

Ha ha.

You hate to see the left hoisted with their own petard. Really, its a shame.

Regrettably the title of this post does not follow in any way from its content.

Congestion pricing is another example of something that used to be cheap or free for Boomers is now an expense and debt load for Millennials. Yes, let's keep the future generations in indentured servitude.

Ahhhh the joys of free highway access and two hour work commutes stuck in traffic.
How dare anyone try and fix the mess....

OK Millennial (oh gag, yet more idiotic intergenerational whining).

Maybe they should assess the effects of this planned extortion on the city's business environment

Did anyone else find this startling, or are we just getting used to vast sums for these things?

"The first-in-the-nation congestion pricing scheme is supposed to support $15 billion in debt for the MTA’s $51.5 billion reconstruction plan, which encompasses everything from subway resignaling to dozens of new station elevators."

With high congestion pricing, people will travel less resulting in a less efficient match between the individual talents and the jobs decreasing overall economic productivity. Including this impact in an EIR would kill the politically desired outcome of more money and power to the transit bureaucracy.

This harkens back to the "Superferry" that was meant to be a boat to connect the Hawaiian islands in the mid 2000's. To this day, virtually all interisland travel is still via plane.

The first boat was built and the service was launched beautifully. However, the Superferry would have decreased cost to travel interisland, potentially lowered shipping rates, and possibly reduced interisland car rental needs (pre-ridesharing) because you could drive your car right onto the boat. These improvements in consumer efficiency led to incumbents (with help from environmentalists) launching a legal challenge on environmental impact statement grounds, which eventually resulted in a ruling that the Superferry's operation was unconstitutional without a proper EIS. Fast forward, the Superferry is bankrupt.

10+ years later, the Superferry is still a sore / confusing point for many long-time Hawaii residents and really highlights "stroke of the pen" risk from EIS requirements.

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