Intel facility would avoid ‘redundant’ environmental review under U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown bill

The changes exempt CHIPs Act projects from federal review if they’ve gone through similar state-level permitting

By: - July 21, 2023 4:50 am

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown speaks at a groundbreaking ceremony for Intel’s new semiconductor manufacturing site, September 9, 2022, in Licking County, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for the Ohio Capital Journal / Republish photo only with original story)

Ohio U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown is co-sponsoring a measure aimed at streamlining projects like the Licking County Intel facility funded by the CHIPs Act. The proposal would allow those projects to avoid a federal environmental review if they’ve already undergone a similar state or local process.

Environmental regulation

Under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, “major federal actions” require an environmental impact statement. Brown’s new Building Chips in America Act carves certain projects funded by the CHIPs Act out of that definition.

“Of course, we want authorities to do due diligence, make sure they comply with environmental laws,” Brown said, but he argued that needs to be balanced against potential delays.

“For large, complex projects, federal environmental reviews can, rightly so, take several years, but pausing the construction work in Intel while that happens is unacceptable,” Brown argued. “It has already undergone state and local reviews it has the permits our bill means this project could move forward without having to undergo redundant reviews at the federal level.”

The proposal would exempt from NEPA review CHIPs projects that have received permits and begun construction, expansions that would less than double an existing site, projects that undergo state review as stringent as NEPA, or projects where federal funding accounts for 15% or less of the facility’s cost. The proposal also puts the Commerce Department in charge of any required NEPA reviews and limits the timeline for court challenges.

Brown stressed the entire point of funding semiconductor production through the CHIPs Act was to ensure domestic companies didn’t have to rely on overseas production.

Dorsey Hager, from the Central Ohio Building and Trades Council, argued it’s important to get CHIPs Act projects moving, because of their downstream impacts. Making components like semiconductors domestically could reduce lag time for existing manufacturers and even encourage investment in new endeavors.

That’s pretty good news, Hager said, for the people building the warehouses and storefronts where they’ll work.

“With the CHIPs Act, with Intel, with everything that’s coming in with it, I can honestly say that the next 10 years look very bright here for opportunities for people, electricians, plumbers, pipefitters, teamsters, insulators,” he said. “We could have folks that spend their 25-30 year career all at the Intel facility.”

NEPA has been the subject of heightened debate recently, as Congress agreed to narrow its scope and limit its timeline among other changes in last June’s debt ceiling deal. For decades, environmental groups have used the NEPA review process to slow some fossil fuel development. Now, however, many argue that tool is delaying the roll out of clean energy projects.

2024 election

On the political front, this week saw Ohio’s Republican Secretary of State Frank LaRose announce his bid to challenge Brown in 2024. LaRose joins businessman Bernie Moreno and GOP state Sen. Matt Dolan in the Republican primary race.

Asked for his thoughts on the field of potential competitors, Brown said, “I have other things to do.” He rattled off a series of legislative efforts, particularly those related to addressing fentanyl. Brown argued he’s notched accomplishments by “keep(ing) politics out of it.”

“There will be time next year to discuss that,” he said, “but I know what I’m looking at and where my focus is now.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.