Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) today introduced the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, bipartisan legislation designed to streamline and improve the federal permitting process, which is currently laden with uncertainty and unpredictability that hinders investment, economic growth, and job creation. The Federal Permitting Improvement Act is modeled on the commonsense, bipartisan permit-streamlining reforms of the 2006 and 2012 transportation bills and recommendations from the President’s Jobs Council, as well as other studies. Portman and McCaskill are joined by original cosponsors Senators Joe Donnelly (D-IN), John Barrasso (R-WY), and Mike Enzi (R-WY).
“In order to unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of America and encourage job creation here at home, we must reduce regulatory barriers that are preventing businesses from expanding and innovating and reducing our global competitiveness,” said Portman. “Under the current U.S. system, many major capital projects get bogged down in a lengthy approval process and never see the light of day. By streamlining the federal permitting process, our bill will speed up regulatory review for these economy-boosting projects and investments.”
“We need to continue getting folks back to work, and that’s exactly what this bill aims to do,” said McCaskill. “American employers can’t afford unnecessary and duplicative delays while multiple federal agencies check boxes—we need a streamlined and navigable process that allows businesses and communities aiming to construct large projects the freedom to get them off the ground.”
“My number one priority is to help create jobs, and I think one of the best ways to create jobs is to establish the right conditions for the private sector to invest in our country’s infrastructure,” said Donnelly. “This bipartisan legislation would encourage investment by requiring government agencies to work together to cut red tape, set deadlines, and increase transparency. We should be building things in this country, and that means expediting the transportation, energy, and other infrastructure projects that strengthen our economy.”
“Across America, job creators who want to start new projects are being held back by excessive red tape and a slow federal permitting process,” said Barrasso. “In order for our economy to grow, we’ve got to improve this outdated and bureaucratic permitting system. Our bill will help give employers the certainty they need to move forward with innovative projects, hire new workers and keep our country competitive.”
“Federal red tape and lawsuits are two of the biggest job killers our businesses face today. This bill seeks to add a little more common sense to the process,” said Enzi. “It adds transparency and would put in place some sensible legal reforms. I hope that with the backing of this bipartisan team we can make good progress to get this passed.”
“This commonsense bipartisan legislation will provide greater certainty and streamline the process that businesses must engage in when seeking approval for major capital infrastructure projects,” said Sean McGarvey, President of North America’s Building Trade Unions, AFL-CIO. “Given the continued unacceptably high levels of unemployment in the construction industry, nearly double the national rate, the enactment of sensible reforms like those contained in this critical legislation will keep our members at work and ensure expansion of employment opportunities.”
“Business Roundtable, which represents major U.S. companies from every sector of the economy, supports this bill because it would implement most of the major permitting reforms the Roundtable proposed in an April 2012 report. We appreciate the leadership of the senators on this issue and urge the Senate to pass the legislation without delay,” said Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company and Chair of BRT’s Select Committee on Smart Regulation.
“The Federal Permitting Improvement Act of 2013 would provide a streamlined process for developers to obtain environmental permits and approvals for their projects in a timely and efficient manner,” said the U.S. Chamber’s Executive Vice President for Government Affairs Bruce Josten. “This legislation would address the problem that far too many shovel-ready projects face today: lengthy project delays from endless environmental reviews and challenges result in lost opportunities to create jobs and grow the economy. The Chamber strongly supports this bill to improve the environmental review and permitting process and get more projects moving.”
The United States ranks 17th in the world for the time it takes to get a government green-light to actually build something — one of the ten International Monetary Fund (IMF) metrics for the “ease of doing business.” Businesses seeking to undertake major capital projects often must run the gauntlet of a dozen separate agency approvals and reviews. That process is plagued by a lack of coordination, few deadlines, insufficient transparency, and litigation exposure as long as 6 years after securing all required approvals. State and local government authorities face the same obstacles when they seek federal permits for infrastructure projects. The resulting uncertainty surrounding major capital projects makes new construction and investments less attractive and hinders job creation. Several recent reports have highlighted the need for modernization of the permitting process, including the 2011 Year-End Report of the President’s Jobs Council, the Business Roundtable’s Permitting Jobs and Business Investment, and the Chamber of Commerce’s Project/No Project report.
The Federal Permitting Improvement Act would improve the permitting process for major capital projects in three ways: better coordination and deadline-setting for permitting decisions; enhanced transparency; and reduced litigation delays. The bill is limited to economically significant capital projects, defined based on the size of the initial investment (more than $25 million). The bill covers major capital projects across all sectors, including renewable or conventional energy production, electricity transmission, surface transportation, aviation, ports and waterways, water resource projects, broadband, pipelines, manufacturing.
This bill also builds on and makes permanent the new permit streamlining project launched by the Obama Administration last year under Executive Order 13,604, and available at permits.performance.gov. It would not alter substantive standards or safeguards, but rather seeks to create a smarter, more transparent, better-managed process for government review and approval of major capital projects.
1. Better Coordination and Deadline-Setting
• Creates an interagency council, led by OMB, to identify best practices and deadlines for required reviews and approvals of various types of infrastructure projects.
• Establishes a formal role for a single “lead agency” to set a permitting timetable for each major capital project, in consultation with participating agencies and based on OMB guidance.
• Encourages greater cooperation with state and local permitting authorities.
• Encourages agencies to conduct environmental reviews by the most efficient process available.
2. Greater Transparency and Early Public Participation
• Creates a public, on-line “dashboard” to track agency progress on required approvals and reviews of major capital projects and to provide access to relevant documents.
• Requires agencies to reach out to accept comments from stakeholders early in the approval and review process, with the aim of identifying and addressing important public concerns early.
3. Litigation Reforms
• Reduces the current (default) statute of limitations on NEPA suits from 6 years to 150 days — as in the bipartisan 2012 transportation bill, MAP-21.
• Permits courts to consider potential job loss in weighing equitable considerations for injunctive relief.