President Donald Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan includes sweeping changes to environmental review process that can hold up major projects for years with studies and legal challenges.
Most notably, Trump’s plan would limit environmental reviews to two years, keep reviews within one agency and get rid of “redundant and inefficient provisions in environmental laws,” according to the White House.
The plan would fix a “broken permit system” that puts a “chilling effect” on infrastructure investments, a White House official told reporters. Officials said the new plan would “fix fundamental long-term problems.” The plan also calls for more coordination with state authorities in infrastructure permitting.
Republicans have long complained that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has become barrier to major infrastructure projects. Initially signed in 1969 to streamline environmental reviews, the NEPA review process has since been bogged down with more eco-laws, like the Endangered Species Act.
The American Action Forum in October estimated it can take 90 months, or 7.5 years, to approve major energy infrastructure projects. It’s a similarly lengthy process for highways and other major projects.
Trump issued an executive order in August to try and limit environmental reviews to two years, but the White House’s infrastructure plan calls for congressional action to further streamline permitting.
“This proposal would establish a firm deadline of 21 months for lead agencies to complete their environmental reviews through the issuance of a Finding of No Significant Impact or Record of Decision” under NEPA, reads the infrastructure plan. The plan also looks at reforms to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act in an effort to promote infrastructure investment.
After that, agencies would have three months to decide what permits a project needs to move forward, according to the plan.
To further limit reviews, Trump’s plan also calls for a “one agency, one decision” that would keep permitting authority under one federal agency. Under current law, multiple agencies can weigh in on a major project. Environmental groups often use the NEPA process as an opportunity to launch legal challenges of projects they oppose, especially energy projects.
“Trump’s infrastructure plan is nothing more than a scam to roll back environmental and health protections,” Ben Schreiber with Friends of the Earth said in a statement. “It will allow his administration to unilaterally build pipelines across our national parks and sell-off our public lands to oil and coal companies.”
Trump’s plan also has the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issue new regulations and guidances to streamline the permitting process, according to the plan.
“Requiring CEQ to revise its regulations to streamline NEPA would reduce the time and costs associated with the NEPA process and would increase efficiency, predictability, and transparency in environmental reviews,” the plan reads.
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