President orders expedited environmental reviews for infrastructure projects
Posted August 17, 2017
A new Presidential Executive Order (EO) makes sweeping changes to the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects. Citing regulatory red tape, the White House says the purpose of the new order is to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of federal infrastructure decisions. According to the EO, “the Federal Government, as whole, must change the way it processes environmental reviews and authorization decisions.”
An infrastructure project is defined as “a project to develop the public and private physical assets that are designed to provide or support services to the general public.” These projects may include surface transportation, including roadways, bridges, railroads, and transit; aviation; ports, including navigational channels; water resource 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.
One Federal Decision
The White House argues that the old system allowed for a patchwork of agency reviews. The EO establishes a new policy of “One Federal Decision,” which assigns a lead federal agency to each major infrastructure project. The lead agency will be responsible for riding herd on the environmental review and authorization process, including identifying the main point of contact at each federal agency. All affected federal agencies will be expected to cooperate with the lead federal agency in responding to all reasonable requests for information in a timely manner.
The policy is the same for infrastructure projects that must be approved under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The EO calls on the federal lead agency to assist in coordinating the NEPA review and record any individual agency decision on one Record of Decision (ROD). All federal authorization decisions for the construction of a major infrastructure project must be completed within 90 days of the issuance of a ROD by the lead federal agency, as long as the final review includes an “adequate level of detail” to help the affected agencies make their decisions.
Developing a framework
The EO tasks the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the White House Office of Management and Budget with developing the framework for implementing the One Federal Decision. The CEQ is also directed to develop an initial list of actions it will take to enhance and modernize the federal environmental review and authorization process. These actions could include issuing regulations, guidance, and directives to ensure optimal interagency coordination of environmental review and authorization decisions.
The CEQ is further directed to ensure that agencies apply NEPA in a manner that reduces unnecessary burdens and delays as much as possible. The CEQ may use its authority to interpret NEPA to simplify and accelerate the review process.
For energy projects, the EO requires the Departments of the Interior (DOI) and Agriculture to serve as the lead agencies for identifying and designating energy right-of-way corridors on federal lands for government-wide expedited environmental reviews. The DOI must come up with a strategy and recommendations for a multi-agency reorganization effort to accomplish this.
Revokes previous Executive Order
The new EO revokes the previous administration’s Executive Order 13690 that established a federal flood risk management standard and a process for further soliciting and considering stakeholder input. EO 13690 required more stringent reviews for projects located in flood zones.
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