A central component of the President’s plan to promote economic growth and expand opportunity is building a 21st century infrastructure and modernizing the Federal permitting and environmental review process. Over the last few years, we’ve seen great progress - Federal agencies have expedited the review and permitting of over 50 major infrastructure projects, including bridges, transit, railways, waterways, roads, and renewable energy projects, and over 30 of those projects have completed the permitting process. More efficient and expeditious processes mean timely Federal decisions and greater predictability for project sponsors and investors as well as the public. Still, ample opportunities exist to further improve the efficiency and quality of review, which would cut review timelines while also improving environmental and community outcomes.
Today, the White House Office of Management and Budget and Council on Environmental Quality issued new guidance providing direction to Federal agencies to take a series of actions to significantly expand the use of, and ultimately the number of infrastructure projects on, the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard, a tool for publicly tracking agency progress on completing Federal permitting and environmental review processes for proposed infrastructure projects.
Concurrently, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Transportation, U.S. Coast Guard and three other agencies released the first update in nearly 30 years to the Synchronizing Environmental Reviews for Transportation and Other Infrastructure Projects handbook (known as the Red Book). The Red Book provides practical, real-world guidance to Federal agencies, applicants, project sponsors, and consultants on how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of key permits and reviews required for these project.
The Dashboard expansion, policy guidance, and updated “Red Book” were identified as key deliverables in the Administration’s May 2014 comprehensive plan to modernize infrastructure permitting, which set a goal of reducing the aggregate time it takes to conduct reviews and render permitting decisions, while producing measurably better environmental and community outcomes.
“To deliver infrastructure projects that achieve real impacts for the American people, we need to act with urgency and recognize that every day counts,” said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Today's actions help us get there. We are pushing ourselves to improve efficiency, coordination, and collaboration, so that federal permitting becomes a sprint rather than a relay race."
"The Army Corps of Engineers is proud of partnering with other federal agencies to update the ‘Synchronizing Environmental Reviews for Transportation and Other Infrastructure Projects’, also known as the Red Book,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy. “The Red Book supports more timely permit decisions, allowing a diverse set of infrastructure projects to advance through the permitting process in a more transparent and efficient manner. Infrastructure projects will be evaluated and permitted faster."
The Dashboard was originally launched in 2012 to highlight and track 52 high-priority projects, such as the Tappan Zee Bridge, as they progressed through the required Federal permits and reviews. Most of those projects have now completed the review process, many well ahead of schedule. The requirements outlined in the new guidance will significantly expand the scope of projects that will be posted to the Dashboard, by establishing a set of objective criteria to identify those projects that are expected to involve complex permitting processes or significant environmental impacts on communities and resources. The guidance also designates specific permitting and review schedules and milestones for each project to report. Additionally, the Dashboard website has recently been redesigned to accommodate this expansion and we will continue to add features and functionality over the coming months.
Under the new guidance, the eleven Federal agencies that play a significant role in the permitting, review, funding, and development of infrastructure projects will begin – in October – identifying new infrastructure projects for which standardized milestones and coordinated schedules will be posted within 90 days. Such projects would include major transit projects, airport capital improvements, ports and dams, electricity and broadband transmission, renewable energy generation facilities, and others. The reported milestones will include target and actual dates of the receipt of an application, permit issuances or approvals, the release of draft and final Environmental Impact Statements for review and comment, and the issuance of final decisions for all required Federal reviews.
The new policy requiring reviewing agencies to develop a coordinated project schedule and make it easily accessible to the public will improve agencies’ communication with project applicants and sponsors, increase interagency coordination, and open a new window of public transparency and accountability. Building an evidence-based understanding of current Federal permitting and review processes will also help identify ways to make them more effective, efficient, and timely. Ultimately, the new Dashboard and Red Book will enable the government to better carry out its mission of ensuring safety and security and protecting environmental and community resources when working with state, local and tribal governments and private partners to develop and scale the Nation’s infrastructure projects.
Shaun Donovan is the Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget.
Christy Goldfuss is the Managing Director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.