Obama reveals plan to hasten infrastructure projects
The White House Office of Management and Budget, Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Transportation join federal agencies in commitment to expediting permitting and environmental review for federal infrastructure projects
Washington – The White House Office of Management and Budget, Council on Environmental Quality, and U.S. Department of Transportation announced new actions by the Obama Administration to accelerate the Nation’s critical infrastructure projects, including an enhanced Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard, new guidance to Federal agencies establishing metrics for the permitting and environmental review of infrastructure projects, and the first update in nearly 30 years to the Synchronizing Environmental Reviews for Transportation and Other Infrastructure Projects handbook (known as the Red Book) – an interagency effort spearheaded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
President Obama has been committed to building a 21st century infrastructure that will strengthen our Nation’s economy, create jobs, and improve U.S. competitiveness in the global market, while also improving environmental and community outcomes. From taking executive action through the 2011 Presidential Memorandum and 2012 Executive Order to speed infrastructure development and improve and expand permitting reform government-wide, proposing a six-year surface transportation reauthorization, the GROW AMERICA Act, which increases investment and includes a series of legislative proposals to further expand on efforts to increase the efficiency of project delivery, to releasing the 2014 comprehensive plan to modernize infrastructure permitting, the President has worked to ensure America has a first-class infrastructure.
As part of these efforts, Federal agencies previously expedited the review and permitting of over 50 major infrastructure projects, including bridges, transit, railways, waterways, roads, and renewable energy projects, employing common sense practices like running different reviews concurrently rather than sequentially, and using the Administration’s online Dashboard to promote accountability for a shared schedule. Over half of those projects have completed the permitting process, yielding notable successes like the permitting of the Tappan Zee Bridge in just a year and a half. The Administration’s 2014 comprehensive plan offered recommendations to expand on those initial projects, and today’s actions fulfill several key recommendations from that plan.
Traditionally, the federal permitting and environmental review process can take months and, sometimes years to complete, layered with complex requirements and costing millions of taxpayer dollars. Today’s announcement takes major steps to turn best practices into common practices, building on a series of successful efforts over the past several years to modernize the infrastructure permitting process, and increase investment in U.S. infrastructure.
“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.”
“Our Nation’s economy thrives when the foundation of America’s communities – from roads and bridges to ports and waterways – are built to meet the needs and requirements of the 21st Century,” said White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan. “Today’s actions reflect this Administration’s continued commitment to meet those needs by further improving the efficiency of the Federal permitting process in an environmentally sound way and accelerating U.S. economic growth and competiveness.”
“This Administration has worked hard to improve the efficiency of the environmental review processes to ensure Federal permitting decisions and environmental reviews are timely and responsive,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Managing Director Christy Goldfuss. “Today’s announcements reflect the Administration’s commitment to conducting the hard work necessary to harmonize economic growth, infrastructure development, and environmental protections.”
“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.”
Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard
In 2011, the Administration launched the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard 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. New guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget and Council on Environmental Quality will significantly expand use of the Dashboard by requiring its use for major projects meeting a defined set of criteria. The guidance will drive better coordination across agencies by designating specific permitting and review schedules and milestones for each project to report. The Dashboard website has also recently been redesigned to accommodate this expansion and the Administration will continue to add features and functionality over the coming months.
Beginning in October 2015, 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 identifying new infrastructure projects for which standardized milestones and coordinated schedules will be posted within 90 days. The posted projects are those expected to experience complex and potentially lengthy Federal environmental permit and review processes. Such projects would include major transit projects, airport capital improvements, ports and dams, electricity transmission and broadband internet networks, renewable energy generation facilities, and others.
The Dashboard update and guidance to agencies will benefit both businesses and the environment, as the efforts will facilitate faster decisions, save money, and increase agency coordination to achieve improved environmental and community outcomes.
The Red Book
To further strengthen the efficiency and effectiveness of the environmental review process, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers led a process with a number of Federal agencies, including the Department of Transportation and the U.S. Coast Guard, to update the “how-to” handbook (also known as the Red Book), Synchronizing Environmental Reviews for Transportation and Other Infrastructure Projects.
Last updated in 1988, the newly revised Red Book provides practical, real-world techniques, models, and assistance to agencies to coordinate and better synchronize environmental reviews, permits, and other Federal decisions needed to site and build infrastructure projects across the nation. The new interagency guidance specifically encourages agencies to utilize the practices described in this guide.
Together, today’s actions were identified as key deliverables in the Administration’s 2014 plan to reduce the total time it takes to conduct reviews and make permitting decisions, while producing better outcomes for the environment and communities.