Permit Streamlining Legislation Update
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
WASHINGTON D.C—DECEMBER 4, 2015—Yesterday, Congress passed and sent to the President H.R. 22, the “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act”, (FAST Act) which included the permit streamlining legislation which [APRA and the Regulatory Reform Group] supported for the last five years. It very likely will be signed into law by the President.
For the first time since passage of a 1969 federal law requiring environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects needing federal permits, a structure will be imposed on the management, coordination, timing and transparency of the environmental review process for these projects.
The permit streamlining effort began in 2010 with the publication of the “Project–No-Project” report which identified 351 energy projects representing a direct investment totaling $577 billion that were stalled because of an inability to secure environmental permits. The report became the foundational support used by both houses of Congress to initiate legislation to correct the long permitting delays.
The permit streamlining provisions included in H.R. 22 will bring greater efficiency, transparency, and accountability to the federal permitting review process. Its coverage is very broad, including infrastructure, energy, and aviation, broadband and manufacturing projects.
Bringing better coordination and predictability to the permitting process should translate into job creation, economic growth and new development. Some of the key provisions of H.R. 22 include:
- Establishing a permitting timetable, including intermediate and final completion dates for covered projects, i.e. those over $200 million or subject to federal permitting review requirements so they will benefit from enhanced coordination;
- Designation of a Lead Agency to coordinate responsibilities among multiple agencies involved in project reviews to ensure that “the trains run on time;”
- Providing for concurrent reviews by agencies, rather than sequential reviews;
- Allowing state-level environmental reviews to be used where the state has done a competent job, thereby avoiding needless duplication of state work by federal reviewers;
- Requiring that agencies involve themselves in the process early and comment early, avoiding eleventh-hour objections that can restart the entire review timetable;
- Establishing a reasonable process for determining the scope of project alternatives, so that the environmental review does not devolve into an endless quest to evaluate infeasible alternatives;
- Creating a searchable, online “dashboard” to track the status of projects during the environmental review and permitting process;
- Reducing the statute of limitations to challenge a project review from six years to two years; and
- Requiring courts, when addressing requests for injunctions to stop covered projects, to consider the potential negative impacts on job creation if the injunction is granted.
Bill Kovacs is the Senior Vice President of Environment, Technology & Regulatory Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
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