CEQ Announces Steps to Improve the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Process

On September 14th, the Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) published a notice in the Federal Register listing the initial steps to “enhance and modernize the Federal environmental review and authorization process.” CEQ, which is a division of the Executive Office of the President, was created under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) to oversee NEPA implementation and to develop and recommend policies that would improve environmental quality.

CEQ developed the steps in accordance with Executive Order 13807, “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects,” which was signed by President Trump on August 15, 2017. The actions the council will take include:

  • Working with the Office of Management and Budget and the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (“Permitting Council”) to develop a framework that will allow federal agencies to issue a single, unified Record of Decision for a project;
  • Working with the Permitting Council, Department of Transportation, and Army Corps of Engineers to identify projects that may qualify as high-priority projects pursuant to Executive Order 13766 signed January 24, 2017, known as the Order expediting environmental reviews and approvals for high priority infrastructure projects;
  • Identifying any changes needed to clarify and update CEQ’s regulations for implementing NEPA’s procedural provisions;
  • Issuing guidance, as needed, to simplify and accelerate the NEPA process;
  • Forming and leading an interagency working group that will identify anything in agency regulations and policies that would hinder “efficient and effective processing of environmental reviews and permitting decisions.”

Executive Order 13807 also establishes agency and cross-agency timing and performance goals, establishes accountability tools to measure progress toward those goals, and identifies CEQ the mediator for any interagency disputes that arise. It was signed to “ensure that the Federal environmental review and permitting process is coordinated, predictable, and transparent…”

The current actions follow the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (“FAST Act”), which was signed into law by President Obama in 2015. The FAST Act was designed to “improve the timeliness, predictability, and transparency of the Federal environmental review and authorization process” for transportation projects. It included provisions that created the Permitting Council, established procedures to standardize interagency consultation and coordination, required use of the Permitting Dashboard to track project timelines, and addressed other matters related to the project delivery process and tracking of environmental review milestones.

Additional legislation, currently pending in Congress, would codify steps to improve the permitting process for water supply projects. (See “House Passes Bill to Make Water Supply Project Permitting More Efficient,” JOW Summer 2017).

 

Written by Marta L. Weismann