Infrastructure could gain from regulatory reforms
DEREGULATION has been a major focus of the Trump administration, and those efforts have paid off in increased economic activity. So Americans should welcome news that President Trump has included regulatory streamlining in his infrastructure proposal.
Trump’s plan includes 15 separate items regarding the permitting process. This should surprise no one who viewed Trump’s State of the Union speech.
“We built the Empire State Building in just one year — is it not a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?” Trump said. He added that any infrastructure legislation should “streamline the permitting and approval process — getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one.”
His infrastructure plan fleshes out those comments, and the proposed regulatory reforms will strike most people as sensible.
Trump calls for creating a “one agency, one decision” environmental review structure. The proposal notes that under current law, “project sponsors of infrastructure projects must navigate environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and permitting processes with multiple Federal agencies with separate decision-making authority and often counter-viewpoints. These many hoops affect the ability of project sponsors to construct projects in a timely and cost effective manner.”
Thus, Trump calls for setting a “firm deadline” of 21 months for lead agencies to complete environmental reviews and three months thereafter for other federal agencies to make subsequent permitting decisions. A two-year permitting process doesn't strike us as a rush to judgment.
In situations where multiple agencies conduct NEPA reviews, Trump’s plan calls for joint analysis.
“When not coordinated, these reviews can be duplicative and difficult for a project sponsor to navigate,” the proposal states. “Decisions are not issued in the same time frame and frequently are spread out over long periods of time. This additional time can add months, or even years, to the environmental review process, with little benefit to the environment.”
To further reduce duplication, the administration would also require use of a “single Federal environmental review document” by all agencies involved in a process.
Trump’s plan notes the federal Council on Environmental Quality’s regulations “were issued in 1978, before the advent of the Internet, and have been subject to only one revision since then.” The plan calls for their overhaul and streamlining.
The plan notes wireless companies wishing to install “small cells and Wi-Fi attachments” must comply with NEPA and the National Historic Preservation Act “in the same way that they obtain permits for large towers.” Yet small cells and Wi-Fi attachments “do not have an environmental footprint, nor do they disturb the environment or historic property.” The plan calls for exempting them from those unnecessary permitting processes.
The Obama administration’s failed stimulus plan is remembered today more for boondoggles than serious infrastructure funding, due largely to regulatory hurdles that left former President Obama flummoxed in 2011.
By streamlining government permitting, Trump can not only avoid that mistake today, but also facilitate increased infrastructure investment for years to come.