Wednesday, April 21, 2021


Environmental protection is a forward-thinking endeavor. We seek to preserve our natural environment and secure cleaner air and water not just for ourselves but for future generations, so that they may benefit from these goods too.

The United States has made progress in environmental protection by embracing the promise of the future. Our country reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 13% between 2005 and 2019, despite U.S. primary energy demand holding steady over the same period. This decrease occurred in part through innovation. Developing and adopting new technologies helped drive emissions reduction.

Looking forward, American energy and environmental policy must incorporate this central fact. It has proven successful at improving environmental outcomes without inhibiting economic growth or job creation.

In fact, this approach supports American economic leadership. We can be the laboratory of the world, developing new technologies to burn fuels in a cleaner and more efficient fashion for use here and abroad. Encouraging efficiency and innovation also increases productivity for American manufacturers and industrial facilities.

Yet federal laws and regulations too often remain frozen in time, products of outdated approaches that sought to burden the power, manufacturing, and industrial sectors rather than harness them in support of the creativity that will solve our environmental challenges.

Visiting factories and facilities across Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District and hearing about their experiences with counterproductive regulations led me to introduce legislation to fix one particularly flawed rule.

That legislation is the New Source Review Permitting Improvement Act, and it would correct previous interpretations of the New Source Review (NSR) permitting program established by the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1977. The NSR program’s intent is to protect air quality from certain stationary sources such as power plants and factories by requiring the installation of modern emissions control systems when a major modification is made at an existing facility. The permitting program requires sources undergoing major modifications to go through a byzantine permitting process to determine if the change will result in an emissions increase.

Over the years, NSR’s real-world effects have often undermined the program’s goal to reduce air pollution. The cost in time and money of the NSR permitting process deters facility operators from investing in upgrades that improve their efficiency and lower their emissions. NSR puts hurdles on the path toward environmental improvement rather than clearing the way.

I saw an example of the unintended consequences of NSR’s burdens during a visit to a factory where I observed a conveyor belt loop that led nowhere. At one time, the loop took products to another station in the manufacturing process, but other updates had removed that step. Removing the conveyor belt loop, however, could have triggered the NSR process and required a costly upgrade of the entire factory.

To end this self-defeating bureaucratic boondoggle, the New Source Review Permitting Improvement Act would clarify that the permitting process exempts modifications meant to reduce emissions of air pollutants or restore, maintain, or improve the reliability of operations at, or safety of, a source. These exemptions would not apply to modifications found to have an adverse effect on human health or the environment. The legislation would also align the emission rate test that facilities must run with another Clean Air Act program that uses the exact same definition of the term “modification.” If enacted, this bill would remove obstacles to efficiency and investment in facilities. It would let operators reduce emissions through one bite at an apple, while the current NSR process requires operators to swallow the apple whole.

During the Trump Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency took steps to reform the New Source Review permitting program. The agency under Administrators Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler clarified NSR’s rules and increased regulatory certainty, all without sacrificing the program’s goal of reducing air emissions. I believe these reforms put NSR on a stronger footing to do what it was created to do: encourage the use of the latest emissions reduction technology to protect air quality.

Unfortunately, the Biden Administration’s approach to regulation puts these needed reforms at risk. Especially regarding the environment, President Biden seems to think the only way to solve our problems is to add more layers of government mandates and red tape.

Clean air should not fall victim to bureaucratic inertia. Instead, we can trust the innovatory spirit and good sense of the American people. Legislation such as the New Source Review Permitting Improvement Act would embrace these strengths of ours in the service of environmental protection.

• U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith, Virginia Republican, represents the 9th Congressional District. He is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee and serves as the Republican Leader of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.