Lengthy federal and state review of new business projects is delaying up to $1 trillion in new investments, according to John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable.
If the government streamlined the federal permitting process — without sacrificing safety or the quality of reviews — it would unleash a flood of investments that would improve economic growth and reduce the federal deficit, said Engler, whose members include Fortune 500 companies such as AT&T, Boeing, Xerox and Yahoo.
“The payoff is in jobs and growth,” Engler, a former Republican governor of Michigan, told The Daily Caller on Tuesday.
The roundtable is pushing the White House to consolidate and schedule some of the vast federal “Mother, May I” process, he said. “They’ve been good listeners… [and] they will get their grade in November,” he said.
The White House says it wants to cooperate, and has made some moves to consolidate the approval-granting process for a few showcase projects.
They include a new power line crossing Utah, Nevada, Colorado and Wyoming.
The project needs roughy 100 approvals from federal and state officials, including approval for the “Modification of habitat of threatened and endangered species,” from the federal wildlife division, and approval for the “Construction and operation of transmission lines from 21 counties.”
The approval process can stretch on for years, and can include much duplication and much litigation, Engler said.
It is also subordinate to political requirements.
Last fall, President Barack Obama denied approval for construction of the U.S.-Canada Keystone XL pipeline after a determined protest by his allies in the environmental movement. The denial was slammed by labor unions, whose members stood to gain from the construction work.
Canadian officials are now considering construction of an alternative pipeline that would take oil to a Canadian seaport on the Pacific.
To improve the review system, officials should be required to approve or reject projects within 180 days, and should allow the public to track the status of each review process, Engler said. Companies should also be allowed to cite favorable regulatory precedents and decisions from one region of the country when seeking permission in another region, he said.
The goal, he said, should be “getting to ‘Yes’…. [and] saying ‘Yes’ to U.S. jobs,” he said.
Without reform, the long U.S. permitting process will continue to push company investments overseas, he said. That’s because foreign governments are streamlining their permitting procedures to attract and spur U.S. investment, he said.
In time, overseas investments spur overseas hiring and a gradual shift to foreign management of U.S. companies.
However, Engler said, investment will remain inside the United States if there’s a reform of the approval system.
U.S. executives, he said, “want this country to win.”