In­fra­struc­ture could gain from reg­u­la­tory re­forms

The Oklahoman - - OPINION -

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.

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