The Lead

Biden admin vows to speed up environmental permits for infrastructure projects

By: - May 11, 2022 11:08 am
PennDOT paving crews (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania photo).

PennDOT paving crews (Commonwealth of Pennsylvania photo).

President Joe Biden’s administration will seek to hasten construction of roads, bridges, wind farms and more by tweaking the federal review process for environmental and other permits, administration officials said Tuesday.

On a press call, administration officials said they were seeking to make permitting easier without sacrificing environmental standards.

The new permitting plan includes five components, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory said. They are:

  • Consolidating decision-making among agencies to reduce the number of federal permits a project would need. The White House will also set up teams of sector-specific experts in an effort to streamline permitting applications from various industries.
  • Establishing timeline goals and tracking project information
  • Engaging in “meaningful outreach and communication” with states, tribes and local governments to gain support and input from projects’ starting points.
  • Improving technical assistance and support to nonfederal partners.
  • Using existing agency resources to prioritize permitting review.

The permitting plan is meant to build on provisions in last year’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure law. That law created a permitting council to bring agencies together at the beginning of the permitting process.

Less than 10% of the funding in the infrastructure law will be spent by the federal government, said Samantha Silverberg, the White House’s deputy infrastructure implementation coordinator.

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To encourage states, tribes, cities and private companies to build quickly, the administration wants to reduce permitting delays.

Streamlining permitting has long been an ambition of federal officials of both parties. During the period President Donald Trump’s administration focused on infrastructure, reducing federal review times was an often stated goal.

Biden officials insisted Tuesday that the administration could speed up permitting without sacrificing environmental standards.

“This plan explicitly rejects the tired view that there’s an inherent tradeoff between permitting efficiency — doing permitting in a timely and predictable manner — with permitting effectively, ensuring the best outcomes for the community and the environment,” Jason Miller, the deputy director for management  said. “We can and we will do both.”

One environmental benefit of the plan will be in hastening construction of renewable energy facilities, such as the South Fork wind farm off the coast of Long Island, New York, Silverberg said.

Asked how environmental reviews would be shortened, officials on the call declined to offer specifics, saying only that review timelines would “make sense” and depend on the scope and type of the project.

“We want to make sure that we create a timeline approach that makes sense given the nature of the particular action that’s being taken,” Mallory said.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.