Trump Orders Streamlined Permitting for Infrastructure Projects

August 17, 2017

President Trump issued an Aug. 15 Executive Order titled “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects,” seeking to streamline the approval process for infrastructure projects and unify the participation of various federal agencies. If the timeframes and processes set forth in the order are followed, then infrastructure projects, particularly those requiring an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), could see an improved federal permitting process.  

The order reiterated President Trump’s view that large portions of American infrastructure languish in “poor condition,” requiring overhauls to strengthen the economy, improve efficiency, enhance global competiveness and increase domestic job opportunities and wages. The order cited inefficiencies in the environmental review and permitting process as sources of delay and increased project costs. It sets forth, among other policies, a goal to complete, on a per-project basis, all federally required environmental reviews and authorization decisions within a two-year timeframe. The goal broadly encompasses licensing, permitting, findings or determinations, approvals and other administrative decisions by federal departments or agencies.

The policy goals also touched on the need to consider community safety and environmental impact when assessing projects. Notably, the term “infrastructure project” is defined to include energy generation from renewable sources.

The order calls for a scoring system to track agency performance with respect to major infrastructure projects on several factors, including the timeliness and cost-effectiveness of reviews and approvals. The Office of Management and Budget will consider these scores during the determination of agency budgets, which may include penalties for an agency’s failure to meet permitting timetables and milestones. In addition, the order introduces the concept of “One Federal Decision” for major infrastructure projects, requiring each project to have a lead federal agency responsible for “navigating the project through the Federal environmental review and authorization process.” With respect to projects involving the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the federal lead shall coordinate a unified record of decision across all participating agencies, and the order requires that all federal permits be acted upon within 90 days of the issuance of a record of decision.

Trump addressed several other items in the order, including (i) instructing the Council on Environmental Quality to generate proposals to modernize the environmental review process and (ii) mandating that the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to facilitate the identification of energy right-of-way corridors on federal lands.

The order does not impact state permitting processes or timeframes; however, it is typically the NEPA process that drives permitting for significant infrastructure projects.

The full text of the order is available on the White House website.