Trump executive order aims to streamline infrastructure-permitting process

Chris Hill

August 18, 2017

President Donald Trump has issued an executive order that aims to streamline the permitting process for infrastructure projects to quicken the pace of completion of highway and bridge projects across the U.S.

Trump has long called for the reduction of regulatory steps for infrastructure projects. In April he spoke at two events stressing this point, while displaying a lengthy flow chart of a permitting process for a highway.

He showed a similar chart in announcing the executive order that highlighted process taking 10 years for a highway. Trump followed that display with another chart showing a process only taking two years.

Donald Trump and Elaine Chao“Highway builders must get up to 16 different approvals involving nine different federal agencies governed by 29 different statutes,” Trump says. “One agency alone can stall a project for many, many years and even decades. Not only does this cost our economy billions of dollars, but it also denies our citizens the safe and modern infrastructure they deserve. This over-regulated permitting process is a massive self-inflicted wound on our country.”

The key points of the executive order, as provided in a fact sheet include:

  • The Executive Order will make the environmental and permitting processes needed for major infrastructure projects more efficient and effective.
    • Rather than allow for a patchwork of agency reviews, this Order implements a One Federal Decision policy under which the lead Federal agency will work with other relevant Federal agencies to complete the environmental reviews and permitting decisions needed for major infrastructure projects.
      • Each agency will sign a joint Record of Decision and all required Federal permits will be issued 90 days later.
    • The order establishes a two-year goal to process environmental documents for major infrastructure projects.
  • The entire environmental review and permitting process will be reviewed to improve performance across the government and hold every Agency accountable. Under this order:
    • The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) will develop and implement an action plan to improve environmental reviews Government wide.
    • The CEQ will mediate disagreements between Federal agencies so a decision isn’t delayed amid bureaucratic disputes.
    • The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will develop a two-year Government-wide modernization goal and ensure Federal agencies take meaningful steps to achieve it.
    • Agencies will modify their strategic plans to include agency-specific goals for improving environmental review and permitting processes, and hold their officials accountable.
    • OMB will establish a performance accountability system and score each agency on their implementation of the Executive Order.  Poor performance will be considered in budget formulation and could result in the imposition of available penalties.
    • Agencies will also be held accountable for implementing appropriate best practices that are proven to enhance the environmental review and permitting process.
  • The Executive Order makes clear that environmental protections will be maintained, and that the process should focus more on decision-making and good environmental outcomes rather than bureaucratic process. 

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“We are going to get infrastructure built quickly, inexpensively, relatively speaking, and the permitting process will go very, very quickly,” Trump says. “No longer will we tolerate one job-killing delay after another, and no longer will we accept a broken system that benefits consultants and lobbyists at the expense of hardworking Americans.”

Texas Department of Transportation Executive Director James Bass says his agency commends the executive order and the two-year goal for completion of the permitting process for infrastructure projects.

“This will have a significant impact in helping to expedite the delivery of transportation projects,” Bass says. “This action will assist states like Texas that have been able to take on more environmental review authority from the Federal Highway Administration and move projects through the review process in a more expedited fashion, thus delivering projects ahead of schedule and under budget while maintaining environmental safeguards.”

The full text of the executive order is available here.

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