The White House Office of Management and Budget and its Council on Environmental Quality have jointly issued new guidelines to Federal agencies to help accelerate the review and approval of infrastructure projects. None of the changes require funding from or approval by Congress.
The effort is aimed at “directing Federal agencies to take a series of actions to significantly expand the use of, and ultimately the number of infrastructure projects on, the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard, which the White House called “a tool for publicly tracking agency progress on completing Federal permitting and environmental review processes for proposed infrastructure projects.”
The Dashboard was launched in 2012 to highlight and track 52 high-priority projects, including the rebuilding of the Tappan Zee Bridge over the Hudson River, as they progressed through the Federal permit and review process.
The White House said the requirements outlined in the new guidance will “significantly expand the scope of projects that will be posted to the Dashboard, by establishing a set of objective criteria to identify those projects that are expected to involve complex permitting processes or significant environmental impacts on communities and resources.” The guidance designates specific permitting and review schedules and milestones for each project to report.
Also new is that, beginning in October, the 11 Federal agencies heavily involved in the permitting, review, funding and development of infrastructure projects will start identifying new infrastructure projects for which standardized milestones and coordinated schedules will be posted within 90 days.
Those milestones will include target and actual dates of the receipt of an application, permit issuances or approvals, the release of draft and final Environmental Impact Statements for review and comment — as well issuance of final decisions for all required Federal reviews.
The office of Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) was quick to point out that, in its view, the procedural changes outlined by the White House “mirror” provisions of the NEPA Reciprocity Act (H.R. 2497) that the Congressman introduced back in May.
That bill seeks to give the Secretary of Transportation authority to certify that a given state’s environmental review process is sufficient to satisfy the federal environmental review process established under NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act.
The measure would allow California projects that have already passed the state’s stringent environmental review process to bypass “a duplicative and redundant second layer of review, dramatically streamlining the project delivery process,” according to Denham.
“Clearly there is bipartisan support for streamlining the approval process for our infrastructure projects,” said Denham in a statement issued in reaction to the White House news.
“I’m glad to see the administration recognizing the importance of delivering new and repaired roads, bridges and waterways without unnecessary government intervention," he added. "This is the goal of the NEPA Reciprocity Act – to apply the same principal on the local level to save California counties and cities unnecessary time and money in our building projects.”
Denham noted that his legislation is supported by the National Association of Counties and the California State Association of Counties.
Delays caused by securing approval for infrastructure projects cost the U.S. more than twice what it would cost to fix the infrastructure itself, according to a report released this month by Common Good, a nonpartisan government-reform coalition.
The group said that those approvals can take a decade or longer to get and even a six-year delay in starting construction on public projects costs over $3.7 trillion-- or more than double the $1.7 trillion needed through the end of this decade to modernize the country’s overall infrastructure.
The Common Good report, Two Years, Not Ten Years: Redesigning Infrastructure Approvals, proposes “a dramatic reduction of red tape so that infrastructure can be approved in two years or less.”