On Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order (EO) on infrastructure permitting, titled Presidential Executive Order on Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure.
The EO aims to reduce permitting time, which in the past took an average of seven years, and will now be condensed into an average of two years, according to the President’s remarks. The President made the announcement alongside related cabinet members: Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Department of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney.
During his remarks, the President displayed a long flowchart that represented the old process of approvals of the project, followed by a new, significantly shorter flowchart. The Order achieves the expedited process in part by having one agency take the lead on each project’s approval process and by establishing a review process that holds agencies accountable.
The 2017 Infrastructure Report Card recommends streamlining permitting as one way to improve our nation’s infrastructure. ASCE’s Public Policy Statement on the Regulatory Process for Infrastructure Development similarly aligns with much of what is in the EO, including a single administrative processing/permitting agency to shorten and improve the approval process and improve inter-agency collaboration.
However, improving this process cannot alone bring the grade up from its current ‘D+.’ To fully address our infrastructure needs, increased investment is needed to close the infrastructure gap. ASCE released a statement on the EO, which also notes that at this time it is unclear if the environment will be effectively safeguarded in the new process.
The EO also repealed President Obama’s Executive Order 13690, the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard (FFRMS), which requires that any new federally funded infrastructure projects in a flood plain must first and foremost consider and mitigate flood disaster risk. It is designed to end the costly and unsustainable cycle of relying on disaster relief funds to rebuild after flooding events. As advocates for policies that reduce risk, protect the health of the public, and maximize the public interest – including cost considerations and resilient designs – ASCE has been supportive of the FFRMS. This pragmatic approach, which gives federal agencies the flexibility to use one of three standards for establishing the flood elevation of new infrastructure projects, ensures that taxpayer dollars are responsibly spent while also safeguarding public health.
In October 2016, ASCE submitted formal comments to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in response to FEMA’s proposed rule to implement the FFRMS. In March 2017 and June 2017, ASCE, along with a coalition of organizations, sent letters to the White House in support of the FFRMS.
While improving the permitting process can benefit our nation, we ultimately need increased investment into projects that are a benefit to Americans and the economy. The President remarked he believes there is still bipartisan interest on passing a large infrastructure package, though the full details of such a bill are yet to be seen.