WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced the Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act, a bill to improve the federal permitting process for some of the largest infrastructure projects and build on efforts to update this process in 2015.
In 2015, Senator Portman and then-Senator Claire McCaskill co-authored the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, which Congress ultimately enacted into law as Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. That law, now known as FAST-41, significantly reformed the federal infrastructure permitting process while leaving environmental protections in place. Most significantly, it created the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (Permitting Council), which brings together agencies at the start of the permitting process for some of the largest, most complicated infrastructure projects (covered projects) to write out a comprehensive plan for the permitting process across agencies. The public can track the permitting progress for each of those projects at www.permits.performance.gov.
“FAST-41 improved the federal permitting process to promote expansion, economic growth, and the hiring of American workers right here at home,” said Portman. “We need to make this program permanent, apply it to more federal projects to ensure they get done on time and under budget, and expand the authority of the Permitting Council to see to it that those things happen. This bipartisan bill will help update our aging infrastructure and create good jobs while expanding transparency in the permitting process and promoting better coordination between federal agencies. I urge my colleagues to join in supporting this bipartisan bill that is good for jobs, the economy, and the environment.”
“Cutting red tape and simplifying burdensome permitting processes will ensure efficient, timely completion of critical infrastructure projects that will fuel jobs, boost renewable energy production, and expand economic opportunities for communities across Arizona,” said Sinema.
“If we are going to grow our economy, build out vital infrastructure, and provide good-paying jobs for hard-working Americans, it’s critical that we provide more certainty in the permitting process and continue to improve how we build projects,” said Sullivan. “As I’ve long said, it’s unacceptable that it can take 10 or more years to permit a simple road. Making the FAST-41 reforms permanent, expanding project eligibility, and speeding up our burdensome permitting process through better coordination are bipartisan reforms that will help ensure the money we spend today on infrastructure puts Americans to work and benefits Alaska and the country now, when we need it most.”
“The government should be an ally, not an adversary on vital infrastructure projects. Our commonsense, bipartisan bill strikes the right balance between environmental protections and economic growth,” said Manchin. “This bill will help coordinate federal permitting reviews to save time and money while creating good-paying jobs for Americans across our nation.”
NOTE: Since FAST-41 became law, the Permitting Council has helped improve the permitting process for more than 50 projects, saving projects more than a billion dollars, and resolving numerous interagency conflicts. It also has saved projects substantial amounts of time. From 2010 to 2018, on average, it took projects four and a half years to complete reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The average now for covered projects is two and a half years – a 45 percent time savings. The Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act builds on those successes by:
- Making FAST-41 Permanent. Currently, FAST-41 has a seven-year sunset. This bill would eliminate that sunset clause.
- Expanding FAST-41 Benefits to Additional Projects. Infrastructure projects sponsored by or on land owned by tribes, Alaska Native Corporations or Native Hawaiian Organizations would be eligible to be covered and access FAST-41 benefits, regardless of size, and the Council’s annual best practices report would be required to address how to improve engagement with Tribal stakeholders.
- Setting a Two-Year Goal for Permitting Covered Projects. Current law requires the Permitting Council to create template permitting timetables for various types of projects, which agencies must use to set deadlines for permitting covered projects. This bill would give the Council the goal of reducing those template timetables to two years or less, taking into account historical data for permitting each category of covered project, unless the relevant agencies can explain why they need additional time.
- Encouraging Agencies to Use One Document to Track Permitting Decisions. Where possible, agencies would prepare one joint environmental impact statement to enhance coordination and transparency among the agencies.
- Improving Council’s Operation. This bill would improve the Council’s day-to-day operations in numerous ways, including reducing paperwork burdens, improving information-sharing, and giving more clarity for internal deadlines.
This bipartisan, common-sense bill will improve the federal permitting process and give project sponsors more certainty, which will allow them to create more jobs and develop our nation’s infrastructure more efficiently.