President Trump issued an executive order Jan. 24 that empowers his White House Council on Environmental Quality chief to decide which infrastructure projects can be designated "high priority," and then coordinate deadlines with federal agencies in an effort to speed up processing of those projects.
While that new policy directive covers various types of infrastructure work, it specifically lists transportation projects among those the Trump administration wants to expedite.
The order said: "It is the policy of the executive branch to streamline and expedite, in a manner consistent with law, environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects, especially projects that are a high priority for the nation, such as improving the U.S. electric grid and telecommunications systems and repairing and upgrading critical port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges and highways."
State departments of transportation have long supported expediting delivery of projects, including measures that can speed up environmental reviews and permitting processes, while also protecting environmental resources. Several state DOTs have negotiated time-saving agreements under which the Federal Highway Administration assigns federal authority to oversee a state's compliance with environmental rules, and recent federal surface and waterway transportation laws have included additional project streamlining provisions.
In explaining the purpose for this new measure, Trump's order said investment in infrastructure "strengthens our economic platform, makes America more competitive, creates millions of jobs, increases wages for American workers and reduces the costs of goods and services for American families and consumers."
However, it continued, "too often, infrastructure projects in the United States have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures. These delays have increased project costs and blocked the American people from the full benefits of increased infrastructure investments."
For projects that require federal reviews and approvals, Trump ordered that a state governor or head of any executive branch agency may request listing a project as high priority, and the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality will decide the designation within 30 days. The CEQ chairman can also designate such projects on his or her own initiative.
"This determination shall be made after consideration of the project's importance to the general welfare, value to the nation, environmental benefits and such other factors as the chairman deems relevant," the order said.
Then, for any designated high-priority project, the order said the CEQ chief "shall coordinate with the head of the relevant agency to establish, in a manner consistent with law, expedited procedures and deadlines for completion of environmental reviews and approvals for such projects."
The agencies, in turn, "shall give highest priority to completing such reviews and approvals by the established deadlines using all necessary and appropriate means." If deadlines are not met, the head of the relevant agency must provide the chairman a written explanation and provide steps to complete the process as soon as possible.
Some deadlines relating to transportation projects are already specified in law, and Trump's order would not change those. The order also notes that nothing in it shall be construed to impair the authority granted in law to an executive department or agency, or the functions of the director of the Office of Management and Budget relating to budgetary, administrative or legislative proposals.