Portman: House Must Pass Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act to Reform Federal Permitting Process, Fix Crumbling Infrastructure & Strengthen U.S. Economy

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, delivered opening remarks at a Subcommittee on Government Operations and Border Management hearing on “Strategies for Improving Critical Energy Infrastructure.” Portman highlighted the need for the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act, which passed the Senate with a bipartisan vote of 69-30 in August, in order to fix the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and strengthen the economy.

The Senate-passed Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act includes Senators Portman, Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), and Joe Manchin’s (D-WV) bipartisan Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act, legislation to improve and reform the federal permitting process.

In 2015, Senator Portman and then-Senator Claire McCaskill co-authored the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, which was 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 to write out a comprehensive plan for the permitting process across agencies. The bipartisan Infrastructure Investment & Jobs Act makes FAST-41 permanent and will give project sponsors more certainty, which will allow them to create more jobs and develop our nation’s infrastructure more efficiently.

A transcript of his opening statement can be found below and a video can be found here.

“Thank you so much, Senator Sinema and Senator Lankford is coming soon, I think. And to both of you, we appreciate you holding this subcommittee hearing on a really important topic. It’s been great to work with you on these issues. Our energy infrastructure is so critical, and as you say, it’s under threat so much now, particularly with all the natural disasters. We worked together on broader infrastructure issues, roads, bridges, and so on. But we also need to think about our energy infrastructure and be sure it’s able to deliver that reliable and affordable energy to our homes and our communities, which our national security depends on, certainly our economic prosperity depends on. 

“Senator Sinema and I, along with eight of our colleagues, partnered on this bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Senator Carper and others are very involved in this, and it does provide a $65 billion investment into our energy infrastructure and our electric grid. The larger bill includes something else that I think is very important that I know will be a topic of today’s hearing, and that’s how to ensure that as we’re moving forward with energy infrastructure, we’re doing it in a more cost-effective way so the federal dollar can be stretched further. 

”Along those lines, Senator Sinema and I introduced something that’s called the Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act earlier this year, it basically lifts the sunset on a program that has been in place for the last several years that has worked very well. We make that program permanent. It’s called FAST-41, referring to the FAST Act, which was the surface transportation bill. Title 41 of it is a proposal that Senator McCaskill out of this Committee and I worked on back in 2014 and 2015. And it’s a common-sense way to bring agencies together at the start of a permitting process for some of our largest infrastructure projects to develop a transparent timeline, hold them accountable to it, also establishes the Federal Permitting Improvements Steering Council. 

“By the way, one of our witnesses today I see, Madam Chair, is Alex Herrgott, who was executive director of that group, and he continues to work on these issues. The notion is to help resolve conflicts between agencies on projects and develop permitting best practices. Speeding up permitting. Not going around the permitting requirements, but doing so in a much more cost-effective way. And because the system has been so complicated, that’s easy to do. I’ll give you one example of this: The FAST-41 programs have reduced the NEPA review process from four and a half years, on average, to two and a half years, on average, for covered projects. By the way, that’s a 45 percent savings, which represents billions of dollars in savings. 

“So this is one thing that’s working in our federal government – faster, more effective permitting, green-lighting projects, and particularly for energy infrastructure, this has been critical. And again, it does, too, without reducing any environmental or safety standards. The Senate passed a larger infrastructure bill, of course, with 69 votes way back in August. More than two and a half months ago. Our hope is that even in the next few days, we may see that legislation pass the United States House of Representatives. I certainly hope so because it’s critical to fixing our crumbling infrastructure and strengthening our economy. But again, it also fixes our nation’s core infrastructure, including energy infrastructure, without raising taxes or adding to inflation while helping our economy grow in the long term. 

“So I really appreciate your holding the hearing today and to you and Senator Lankford, it’s always a pleasure to work with both of you. My hope is that we’ll get into some good Q&A today with some of your witnesses and learn more about how we can indeed improve our critical energy infrastructure. Thank you, Madam Chair.”