New Trump Executive Order Sets Two-Year Goal for Federal Reviews of Major Projects

August 21, 2017

President Trump signed an executive order that aims to further streamline and shorten the environmental review process for major infrastructure projects, with a "goal of completing all federal environmental reviews and authorization decisions" within two years.

 

"My administration is working every day to deliver the world-class infrastructure that our people deserve, and that frankly our country deserves," he said. "That's why I just signed a new executive order to dramatically reform the nation's badly broken infrastructure permitting process."

 

The president made the remarks at an Aug. 15 Trump Tower appearance in New York to announce the infrastructure development, but the press conference that followed was dominated by his comments about the recent violence in Charlottesville, Va.

 

Joining Trump for the executive order announcement were Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn.

 

Chao, in a separate statement, said: "The average environmental review takes nearly five years, and infrastructure projects can be subject to at least 65 different requirements and permits. This new executive order will slash the time it takes to get vital new infrastructure projects approved and delivered."

 

Trump said highway projects can take a decade, or even as much as 20 and 25 years, to clear the review process. He cited an example of one that he said took 17 years and hundreds of millions of dollars before it was approved for construction.

 

The executive order requires major infrastructure projects to be processed as "one federal decision" with a comprehensive schedule, and automatic notice to senior agency officials upon missing or extending a permitting schedule milestone.

 

It requires that each major infrastructure project have a lead federal agency that will be "responsible for navigating the project through the federal environmental review and authorization process."

 

Bud Wright, executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, said that the executive order was a good start and followed earlier streamlining provisions in the last two surface transportation authorization laws.

 

"Even with the regulatory reforms included in MAP-21 and the FAST Act, we still believe that there are opportunities to further streamline project reviews while protecting vital environmental resources," Wright told the AASHTO Journal. "Establishing accountability for project reviews at the federal level is one way to help ensure that the permitting process doesn't get bogged down."

 

Wright added: "However, regulatory and process reform alone is not going to solve the growing backlog of infrastructure investments we need to maintain a safe and efficient transportation system."

 

The new order covers a broad range of infrastructure projects, including but not limited to transportation.

 

Chao said that at the Department of Transportation "we are already putting the administration's principles into action. We've identified more than two dozen policies and rules that will streamline project delivery and environmental permitting."

 

She added that the INFRA grant program the USDOT has put in place project requirements in keeping with the president's infrastructure initiative, "such as incorporating more funding from state, local and private partners, encouraging the use of innovative permitting authorities and bringing greater accountability into the process."

 

Trump's order includes a controversial provision that revokes a 2015 executive order signed by President Obama, which required that projects built in flood plains with federal aid take rising flood risks into account. Critics said the order changed the flood plain definition and effectively increased the size of the flood plain for federal project support.

 

The AP reported that building trade groups had urged Trump to revoke the Obama order, "saying it was overly bureaucratic and increased the cost of projects."

 

However, the AP said, "environmentalists said . . . that ignoring the reality of the Earth's changing climate is shortsighted," and that not taking long-term flood risks into account when building projects would waste taxpayer money.

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