White House Can Easily Speed Infrastructure Permitting, Group Says

By Cheryl Bolen

The Business Roundtable has sent a letter to the White House in support of President Donald Trump’s order to speed permitting of infrastructure projects, saying the mechanisms to do this are already in law but languishing.

In December 2015, provisions to streamline environmental reviews and permitting of major construction projects were included in the final conference report to highway funding legislation (Pub. L. No. 114-94).

Among other actions, Title 41 of Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act established a council charged with streamlining the environmental review process for “covered projects,” largely those of more than $200 million.

“Unfortunately, when the prior administration left office, FAST-41 had yet to be fully implemented,” said the April 6 letter from Mark Costa, chairman of a Business Roundtable committee, to Gary Cohn, assistant to the president for economic policy. Costa is chairman and CEO of Eastman Chemical Co.

Recommendations for Action

By establishing firm deadlines, requiring concurrent rather than sequential reviews and better coordinating federal and state reviews, permitting times should be shortened, according to a copy of the letter provided to Bloomberg BNA.

Also, providing more transparency into the status of major permits would be helpful in establishing greater accountability, the letter said.

“Importantly, new legislation is not needed to accomplish these reforms. The legal framework already is in place to accomplish them with strong leadership,” it said.

Get Council Up and Running

The Business Roundtable offered several recommendations that the administration could take to aggressively implement the provisions of FAST-41, including fully funding and staffing the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC).

The president should expeditiously appoint an executive director of the FPISC, who should be directly responsible to the White House, the letter said. The director should be tasked with updating the president and Cabinet regularly on the status of major projects.

Also, the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality jointly could issue guidance to explicitly link the executive order signed by the president in January with the FAST Act, with the goal of expediting both surface transportation and water projects, the letter said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Cheryl Bolen in Washington at cbolen@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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