Trump administration agencies, including Transportation, Housing, Interior and Energy, signed an administration memo Monday pledging to speed up permitting on major infrastructure projects using a two-year target.
One agency will helm efforts to secure federal permissions for a wide range of projects. The endeavor is meant to address what President Trump has dismissed as “the horrible, and costly, and broken permitting process.”
Some bipartisan efforts to speed up project approvals have been undertaken in Congress, with some success, though administration officials said this effort will take things much further.
The goal is to “give predictability and transparency to project sponsors that oftentimes have to navigate this bureaucratic maze without anyone really shepherding the process with a definitive timeline,” said Alex Herrgott, associate director of infrastructure for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
A dozen agencies and government councils signed the memorandum of understanding, which implements a Trump executive order from last year. Guidance from the Office of Management and Budget calls on agencies to rework their environmental review processes to meet two-year targets. Explanations for potential project slowdowns would be pushed up to top political officials in the agencies to seek resolutions, Herrgott said, adding: “It’s about changing the culture and behavior within agencies and how they talk and coordinate with each other.”
The details of the administration’s efforts arrived in a highly partisan environment, with the administration’s 10-year, $200 billion infrastructure proposal stalled for lack of funding after major business-oriented GOP tax cuts last year.
Neil Bradley, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s chief policy officer, applauded the “reform-minded progress,” saying in a statement that “simply put, it shouldn’t take longer to approve a project than to build it.” One Federal Decision, as the effort is known, is “a much-needed step in the process to modernize America’s infrastructure.”
However, Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement that “President Trump’s much ballyhooed infrastructure plan has been diminished to little more than an ideological attack on environmental safeguards.”
Slesinger said residents should “have a say in the projects that will define their communities for decades to come. Short-circuiting that process won’t help get new projects built. It’s a scapegoat for this administration’s failure to secure new funding.”
The administration has at times overstated the length of permitting delays, government figures show. A fact sheet released by the White House on Monday said the “median environmental review completion time for a complex highway project is more than seven years, according to a 2014 Government Accountability Office report.”
But the Federal Highway Administration says the figure for major environmental reviews on its projects was less than four years in 2017, in part because of earlier bipartisan streamlining efforts. Those major reviews, known as environmental impact statements, are only used in about 4 percent of highway projects, environmental advocates said.