The Biden-Harris administration is releasing a new Permitting Action Plan to strengthen and accelerate Federal permitting and environmental reviews by leveraging existing permitting authorities as well as new provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
The Action Plan outlines the Administration’s strategy for ensuring that Federal environmental reviews and permitting processes are effective, efficient and transparent, guided by the best available science to promote positive environmental and community outcomes. The goal of these new steps is to strengthen supply chains, lower costs for families, grow the clean energy economy and deliver infrastructure investments on time and on budget.
Necessary improvements to the nation’s ports, airports, rail, and roads will help ease inflationary pressures, create conditions for businesses to thrive and strengthen supply chains. Building new clean energy generation and transmission projects will improve access to affordable clean energy that powers homes and businesses at lower costs. Responsible and sustainable domestic sourcing of critical minerals and materials will reduce dependance on unreliable foreign supply chains.
The Action Plan seeks to swiftly deliver the benefits of infrastructure investment to the American people through well-designed projects that support the Biden administration’s climate and clean energy goals. Putting the Action Plan into place will result in better permitting outcomes, enhanced predictability for project sponsors and increased accountability across Federal agencies to execute efficiently and effectively.
The Permitting Action Plan is built on five key elements that will help ensure the timely and effective delivery of crucial upgrades to America’s infrastructure.
Accelerating Smart Permitting through Early Cross-Agency Coordination
Ensuring early coordination and effective communication across Federal agencies is critical for moving infrastructure projects forward efficiently and on-time. Under the Permitting Action Plan, the administration will:
- Leverage the interagency Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council’s expanded authorities under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to improve coordination among agencies, help avoid and resolve potential conflicts and bottlenecks, identify and share best practices and accelerate information sharing and troubleshooting;
- Convene sector-specific teams of experts to facilitate interagency coordination on siting, permitting, supply chain and related issues, and promote efficient and timely reviews;
- Leverage the Department of Transportation’s Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center to help facilitate environmental review and permitting for Bipartisan Infrastructure Law-funded transportation projects by developing guidance, sharing best practices, coordinating reviews, tracking project milestones and outcomes, and exploring innovative approaches;
- Develop and prepare new approaches to permitting and environmental review that help address common issues, eliminate duplication and site and design projects in a way that reduces resource conflicts and incorporates a climate-smart approach;
- Work to reform outdated permitting laws and regulations, such as the Mining Law of 1872, to establish stronger environmental, sustainability, safety, Tribal consultation and community engagement standards.
Establishing Clear Timeline Goals and Tracking Key Project Information
Communities and project proponents all benefit from having clear information about the schedules, key milestones and deadlines, and public comment opportunities for the environmental review and permitting of major projects. Timeline goals and up-to-date information increase accountability, encourage efficiency, enable greater public participation in project decisions, and build greater trust in government. Under the Permitting Action Plan, agencies will:
- Create permitting schedules with clear timeline goals that are both ambitious and realistic, contain relevant milestones and meet all requirements in applicable law to complete environmental review and permitting in a sound and timely manner;
- Increase transparency and accountability by tracking key project information, including timetables and milestones, on the Federal Permitting Dashboard;
- Identify the lead Federal agency that will be responsible for working with other agencies in the permitting processes to develop and implement coordination plans, interagency agreements or other tools designed to ensure sustained and effective coordination and accountability.
Engaging in Early Outreach with States, Tribal Nations, Territories, and Local Communities
Proactive, early and ongoing engagement with the public, including disadvantaged, underserved or overburdened communities, and State, Tribal, local and territorial partners is fundamental to delivering timely projects that serve the needs and priorities of communities across the country. As part of a robust engagement strategy, which will help inform agencies’ decision-making, agencies will:
- Consult with affected Tribal Nations as early as possible, in a sustained manner and in a fashion that respects the Nation-to-Nation relationship;
- Proactively partner and coordinate with relevant State, territorial and local governments as early as possible and in a sustained manner;
- Review and update policies, procedures and staffing to ensure that the public, including disadvantaged communities, has a meaningful opportunity to participate in decision-making.
Improving Agency Responsiveness, Technical Assistance, and Support
Providing responsive technical assistance and support helps project sponsors, permit applicants, affected communities, Tribal communities and other stakeholders navigate the environmental review and permitting process effectively and efficiently. To address this need, agencies will:
- Identify, share or develop resources, trainings and tools to help stakeholders navigate the environmental review and permitting process effectively and efficiently;
- Review environmental review and permitting information collection requirements to help consolidate or simplify reporting requirements and identify ways that information can be collected more efficiently.
Using Agency Resources and Environmental Reviews to Improve Impact
Timely, informative environmental reviews that are guided by the best available science and help deliver positive environmental and community impact require sufficient levels of skilled agency staff and effective use of budgetary resources. Agencies should therefore:
- Prioritize available resources to address workforce needs and implementation of the initiatives in this Action Plan;
- Use best practices for accelerated hiring and coordinating with other agencies to efficiently use existing resources, such as conducting collaborative field studies and funding liaison positions;
- Use technology, data, and tools to efficiently and holistically assess environmental and community effects, including information on climate change effects, and identify ways to use new technology to collect, analyze, share and publicly communicate relevant information.
The original article can be found at: Road & Bridge