Regulatory Developments

CEQ Looks to Speed Up Infrastructure Projects

Developing a “framework providing for the implementation of One Federal Decision,” is a top item in the Council of Environmental Quality’s (CEQ) list of actions to enhance and modernize the federal environmental review and authorization process for infrastructure projects.

The CEQ produced the list in response to President Donald Trump’s August 15, 2017, Executive Order (EO), Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure.

The overall objective of the EO was to speed up infrastructure projects by lowering hurdles posed by environmental reviews.

“Inefficiencies in current infrastructure project decisions, including management of environmental reviews and permit decisions or authorizations, have delayed infrastructure investments, increased project costs, and blocked the American people from enjoying improved infrastructure that would benefit our economy, society, and environment,” stated the EO. “More efficient and effective Federal infrastructure decisions can transform our economy, so the Federal Government, as a whole, must change the way it processes environmental reviews and authorization decisions.”

The EO stated that it is the policy of the federal government to “conduct environmental reviews and authorization processes in a coordinated, consistent, predictable, and timely manner in order to give public and private investors the confidence necessary to make funding decisions for new infrastructure projects.”

Trump’s EO also revoked President Barack Obama’s January 30, 2015, EO, which directed that federal agencies consider the effects of climate change when mapping floodplains, considering approval of projects in floodplains, and implementing the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard.

Permitting Timetables Expected

The tasks the EO assigned to the CEQ included ensuring “optimal interagency coordination of environmental review and authorization decisions” and ensuring that “environmental reviews and authorization decisions involving multiple agencies are conducted in a manner that is concurrent, synchronized, timely, and efficient.”

In addition, the EO directed that CEQ’s framework include permitting timetables that identify the “estimated intermediate and final completion dates for all environmental reviews and authorizations that are reasonably anticipated as being needed for a project, including the process for granting extensions of any established dates.”

Expediting State Projects

In its notice announcing its list of actions, the CEQ said it would work with the Office of Management and Budget and the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (Permitting Council) to build a framework for and to implement the One Federal Decision policy. Other entries on CEQ’s list include:

  • Referring high-priority state projects to the Permitting Council, the Department of Transportation, and the Army Corps of Engineers;
  • Revising, modifying, or supplementing existing categorical exclusions, which are allowed for actions that do not require reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);
  • Issuing additional guidance to agency heads to simplify and accelerate the NEPA process for infrastructure projects; and
  • Convening an interagency working group to review NEPA implementing regulations and direct agencies to development action plans to remove impediments in the review and authorization of infrastructure projects.

CEQ’s announcement of its list of actions was published in the September 14, 2017, FR.