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Infrastructure Big Idea #2: Deliver Projects Faster Through Additional Permitting Reform

The Brief

This post is part of a series focused on solving the $2 trillion infrastructure funding gap and positioning the United States for the future.

The federal government’s Permitting Dashboard tracks about 60 different permits and reviews that infrastructure projects may need to obtain from at least a dozen federal agencies in total to move forward with construction. In recent years, finding ways to fast-track the process of issuing these permits and conducting reviews has been a bipartisan objective:

  • The Obama administration launched the Permitting Dashboard in 2011 and repeatedly broadened its use to make the review schedule and process for high-priority projects transparent to the public.
  • In 2015, the 114th Congress passed a host of provisions in the FAST Act (P.L. 114-94) to improve coordination and schedule adherence in permitting decisions.
  • Most recently, the Trump administration released an executive order on permitting and announced its One Federal Decision initiative, aimed at speeding up environmental reviews and bringing coordination and accountability to federal approvals.

Despite these steps, the complicated and often lengthy process for environmental reviews and permit approvals can still hold up economically critical projects and is a key barrier to private investment in infrastructure. There is further room for improvement.

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Why It Matters

Unnecessary delays in the permitting process cost money for both the public and private sectors. Direct costs can go up if the costs of materials, supplies, and labor rise during a delay. There is also a public cost to delaying needed infrastructure improvements—older facilities may produce more emissions or break down more often.

The Solution

Despite the steps taken by Congress and the Trump administration, permitting risk remains a key barrier to attracting more robust private investment in U.S. infrastructure. Congress and the administration should work together to:

  • Clarify overlapping permitting initiatives, guidance, and regulatory rulemakings.
  • Codify and optimize One Federal Decision.
  • Expand NEPA assumption pilots and other best practices to infrastructure sectors beyond transportation.
  • Further institutionalize practices and procedures that bring added transparency, predictability, and coordination to the process.

These recommendations focus on common sense, process-oriented reforms, building upon past bipartisan efforts, which will save time and money, and attract increased private sector participation. It is possible to both speed up the permitting and review process, provide greater predictability, and produce improved environmental and social outcomes.

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