The Honorable Gary D. Cohn
Dear Director Cohn:
The Business Roundtable commends the Administration for its commitment to creating an investment climate conducive to economic growth and the accelerated creation of high-quality jobs. The steps the President has already taken to lessen regulatory burdens and help speed the permitting process for major infrastructure projects are positive steps towards that goal.
On January 24, the President issued Executive Order (EO) 13766, Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects, which establishes the policy of the executive branch to “streamline and expedite . . . environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects, especially projects that are a high priority for the Nation, such as improving the U.S. electric grid and telecommunications systems and repairing and upgrading critical port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges and highways.”
Fortunately, existing law already provides a mechanism for comprehensive reform of the process of permitting major infrastructure projects. Requirements for interagency coordination and the establishment of deadlines for the completion of environmental reviews and approvals of federal permits for certain infrastructure projects were enacted into law in December 2015 through Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or “FAST-41”. To a significant extent, FAST-41 already establishes a process to coordinate and make more predictable federal permitting for a broad range of infrastructure projects. These permitting reform provisions enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress. FAST-41 does not apply to surface transportation projects or projects authorized by the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA). These projects have their own parallel permitting provisions, on which FAST-41 was modeled.
Unfortunately, when the prior Administration left office, FAST-41 had yet to be fully implemented. While FAST-41 and the parallel surface transportation and WRDA permitting reform provisions are not perfect, if implemented aggressively, they may be able to deliver the timeliness and certainty in the permitting process that project sponsors seek and which the President has committed. By establishing firm deadlines, requiring concurrent rather than sequential reviews and better coordinating federal and state reviews, permitting times should be shortened. Providing greater transparency into the status of major permits also will be helpful in establishing greater accountability. Importantly, new legislation is not needed to accomplish these reforms. The legal framework already is in place to accomplish them with strong leadership.
I have attached for your consideration actions that can be taken to aggressively exercise the permitting reform provisions now codified in law. The Business Roundtable is focused on growing the economy and accelerating the creation of high quality jobs for the American people. Streamlining the process for permitting infrastructure projects using FAST-41 is a way the Administration can quickly make progress towards those shared goals. Thank you for your continued interest in this important issue.