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Former White House Infrastructure Guru D.J. Gribbin Still Supports Streamlining

The architect of President Donald Trump’s 2018 infrastructure proposal touted the administration’s efforts to streamline the federal permitting process for major infrastructure projects.

Former infrastructure adviser to the president D.J. Gribbin described an executive order Trump issued in 2017 as a key step toward advancing projects of regional significance that often would be mired in lengthy environmental reviews.

Addressing attendees at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board on Jan. 16, Gribbin explained that Trump’s executive order sought to resolve delays blamed on bureaucratic overlaps. Last year, federal agencies signed a memorandum of understanding to implement Trump’s order by tasking one agency to issue an environmental impact statement for the federal government. With the aim of accomplishing the permitting process in two years, that lead agency also would set review schedules for other agencies.

The memorandum resembled provisions within Trump’s 10-year, $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that the Republican-led Congress did not consider last year. Gribbin, who left the White House last year and works in the private sector, was integral in the plan’s formulation. Project proponents would typically be tasked with seeking approvals from multiple agencies, which at times resulted in differing responses from environmental agencies, he explained.

“We as the federal family should be giving our nonfederal partners an answer. Here’s your federal answer,” Gribbin said. “That is not only sort of more efficient and more timely, but we also think that the quality of output will be higher because we’re coordinating amongst ourselves to provide the best answer.”

Or, as Trump stated in the 2018 memorandum: “No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay. While protecting the environment, we will build gleaming new roads, bridges, railways, waterways, tunnels and highways.”

Critics of the administration’s action on permitting point to streamlining provisions already enacted into law through the 2015 FAST Act. The law expires next year.

After the midterm elections, Trump indicated he would devote time this year to advance an infrastructure plan.