April 17, 2018
On April 9, 2018, the Trump administration, along with heads from the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior departments, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, and eight other federal agencies, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that would allow a lead agency to draw up an environmental impact statement (EIS) and complete National Environmental Policy Act reviews of “major” infrastructure projects within an average of two years, the Engineering News-Record reports. The White House told reporters that the new system will provide “an unprecedented level of collaboration in the environmental review process.” The MOU expands on the executive order that Trump signed in August 2017 that defines “major” projects as those “for which multiple authorizations by federal agencies will be required to proceed with construction.”
“Years-long delays in permitting infrastructure projects are often due to conflicting actions and orders by more than one federal agency,” said Laura O’Neill-Kaumo, National Stone, Sand & Gravel Association senior vice president of government and regulatory affairs, in a press release. “We are pleased that these agencies have agreed to streamline the permit approval process to allow this country to rebuild our infrastructure in a more timely manner.”
“This is probably one of the most ambitious steps in terms of project delivery that I think we’ve seen,” Nick Goldstein, American Road & Transportation Builders Association vice president for regulatory and legal issues, told reporters, adding that an EIS today can take anywhere from seven to 13 years. He said the memo will apply to projects that have environmental impact statements, which make up a relatively small amount of all infrastructure projects.
Goldstein added that the measures in the new memo are “all well and good, but we also need to start using this new reformed EIS process, and the way we do that is to stabilize the Highway Trust Fund, have a permanent source of revenue, and then we can embark upon the projects that require these kind of reviews.”
“Time is money,” said House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-Pa.), according to the news agency. “Reviewing and approving infrastructure projects in the most efficient way possible is critical to our Nation’s efforts in building a 21st century infrastructure and keeping project costs from escalating.”
Although transportation industry officials and Rep. Shuster praised the action, environmentalists criticized it. Scott Slesinger, Natural Resources Defense Council legislative director, issued a statement saying, “President Trump’s much-ballyhooed infrastructure plan has been diminished to little more than an ideological attack on environmental safeguards. Local residents should have a say in the projects that will define their communities for decades to come.”