President Joe Biden’s administration has released a plan intended to speed up permitting for projects under the new $1 trillion infrastructure law.
The plan includes better communication and cooperation among federal agencies to “strengthen and accelerate federal permitting and environmental reviews,” says a White House fact sheet.
“Putting the Action Plan into place will result in better permitting outcomes, enhanced predictability for project sponsors and increased accountability across federal agencies to execute efficiently and effectively.”
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association, however, is still concerned about the administration’s timeline for permitting projects. ARTBA notes that the $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act sets a two-year goal for completing environmental reviews and approvals. But it says Biden’s plan does not mention the two-year timeframe.
The law also codifies the former administration’s “One Federal Decision” executive order, which set a goal of completing environmental reviews on major infrastructure projects within two years. The order also called on 11 federal agencies to meet the goal by better coordination throughout the process.
“While the action plan states that it ‘fully leverages’ the IIJA’s permitting improvements, One Federal Decision is only mentioned in a footnote and there is no discussion of completing the environmental review and approval process within two years,” ARTBA says.
Dennis D. Truax, president of the American Society of Civil Engineers, however, praises the new permitting plan as “a step in the right direction to ensure that projects can be delivered on time and on budget while maintaining the rigorous environmental review process.”
Truax says the ASCE’s 2021 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure called for a streamlined permitting process that “will be efficient, transparent, guided by science and shaped by meaningful input from the public and government agencies.”
“ASCE appreciates the administration’s recognition that increased investment in infrastructure must also be coupled with strategic permitting reform that cuts down on red tape but still continues to provide environmental protections,” he says.
ARTBA notes that the plan includes items that are already part of federal law, including lead agencies setting schedules for environmental reviews and increased transparency through use of the Federal Permitting Dashboard, where the public can click on a map to track the details of the project’s permitting process.
Federal agencies are expected to receive guidance within 90 days from the Council on Environmental Quality on implementing the plan; then those agencies set their own guidance, according to ARTBA.
“There has been no indication whether the agencies will take comments on any of the guidance once issued,” ARTBA says. “ARTBA will continue working with the federal agencies to ensure the voice of the transportation construction community is represented on this issue.”
As for the Biden administration, the plan “will revolutionize the way that the federal government approaches the permitting process,” says Christine Harada, executive director of the Permitting Council.
According to the administration’s fact sheet:
“Taken together, these new steps will help strengthen supply chains, lower costs for families, grow our clean energy economy, revitalize communities across the country, support good-paying jobs and deliver infrastructure investments on task, on time and on budget without unnecessary bureaucratic delay.”
Here are some highlights of the plan, according to the administration’s announcement:
- Accelerating smart permitting through early cross-agency coordination;
- Establishing clear timeline goals and tracking key project information;
- Engaging in early and meaningful outreach and communication with states, tribal nations, territories and local communities;
- Improving agency responsiveness, technical assistance and support;
- Adequately resourcing agencies and using the environmental review process to improve environmental and community outcomes.