White House vows to speed up environmental review for federal projects

Dive Brief:

  • Biden administration officials said Tuesday they will tweak the federal review process for environmental permits in an effort to speed up infrastructure construction. As part of the initiative, the White House released a permitting action plan that lays out priorities and directives but does not carry the weight of an executive order.
  • The goal of the new plan is to make permitting faster and easier without compromising environmental standards, officials said. Contractors have long decried the lengthy and complicated process, which can hold up projects.
  • The federal government will spend less than 10% of the $1.2 trillion in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on items like research and data collection, according to the White House, and the rest of the money will flow to states, cities, tribes and companies. As IIJA funds start to roll out, the Biden administration also said the new plan will help these non-federal entities build quickly. 

Dive Insight:

Among other updates, the new permit plan aims to build on a provision in the infrastructure act, which created a permitting council to bring relevant federal agencies together to improve the environmental review process. The seven-page plan has five key elements:

  • Consolidate decision-making among federal agencies to reduce the number of permits a project would need. The White House also plans to set up sector-specific teams to coordinate and streamline permit applications from various industries.
  • Establish timeline goals and track project information.
  • Engage in “early and meaningful outreach” with states, tribes and local governments to gain input on area projects from their inception.
  • Improve technical assistance and support for project partners.
  • Leverage existing agency resources to prioritize permitting review.

If implemented, the plan “will result in better permitting outcomes, enhanced predictability for project sponsors and increased accountability across federal agencies to execute efficiently and effectively,” according to the press release.

Biden officials did not offer additional specifics about how the reviews would be shortened, but insisted they would be able to do so without sacrificing climate standards. That’s a claim some environmentalists have scoffed at, according to E&E News

Separately, President Joe Biden in April restored key regulations in the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock environmental law which requires review of federal projects to assess their likely impacts on climate change and nearby communities. Former president Donald Trump had loosened the law in an effort to speed up construction, but Biden officials argued projects that pass a stricter permitting process would be more likely to survive lawsuits down the road. In recent years, both political parties have championed the need for a faster and easier federal permitting process. 

The Council on Environmental Quality is currently revising NEPA rules in a second and final round. Under Biden, the CEQ has put more emphasis on climate considerations than with Trump, and experts think the second phase of rulemaking could be more impactful than the first.

Leave a comment