President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order Aug. 15, 2017, generally limiting the time to conduct federal environmental review and issue environmental permits to two years for major infrastructure projects; outlining a new process intended to speed up the review and permitting process; and ordering steps to increase accountability in the process.
The executive order delineates the administration’s reasons for these changes: “Inefficiencies in current infrastructure project decisions, including management of environmental reviews and permit decisions or authorizations, have delayed infrastructure investments, increased project costs, and blocked the American people from enjoying improved infrastructure that would benefit our economy, society, and environment. More efficient and effective Federal infrastructure decisions can transform our economy, so the Federal Government, as a whole, must change the way it processes environmental reviews and authorization decisions.”
The executive order defined “infrastructure project” and “major infrastructure project” as follows:
- Infrastructure project: a project to develop the public and private physical assets that are designed to provide or support services to the general public in the following sectors: surface transportation, including roadways, bridges, railroads, and transit; aviation; ports, including navigational channels; water resources projects; energy production and generation, including from fossil, renewable, nuclear, and hydro sources; electricity transmission; broadband internet; pipelines; stormwater and sewer infrastructure; drinking water infrastructure; and other sectors as may be determined by the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC).
- Major infrastructure project: an infrastructure project for which multiple authorizations by federal agencies will be required to proceed with construction, the lead federal agency has determined that it will prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the project sponsor has identified the reasonable availability of funds sufficient to complete the project.
The executive order stipulates that within 180 days of the date of the order, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), in consultation with the FPISC, shall establish a Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal on Infrastructure Permitting Modernization, as required under the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Modernization Act of 2010, to make federal environmental review and authorization for infrastructure projects “consistent, coordinated, and predictable” and to reduce the federal processing of environmental review and authorization of new major infrastructure projects “to not more than an average of approximately 2 years.”
The executive order further stipulated that within 180 days of the establishment of the CAP Goal on Infrastructure Permitting Modernization, OMB, in consultation with the FPISC, shall issue guidance for establishing a performance accountability system to facilitate achievement of the CAP Goal.
The executive order also outlines a “One Federal Decision” policy for major infrastructure projects, designating a lead federal agency to steward a project through the federal environmental review and authorization process. This policy includes direction for the lead federal agency to issue one Record of Decision (ROD) in regard to NEPA obligations, unless certain other conditions exist.
The complete executive order can be accessed online at http://bit.ly/2wQivfN.