DALLAS – President Donald Trump vowed Friday to shorten the “long, slow, messy, and unnecessarily burdensome” environmental reviews of infrastructure projects to no more than two years.
Roads, bridges, and other projects can require 16 different approvals from 10 federal agencies governed by 26 separate statutes, Trump said during an address at the Transportation Department.
“It is going to end, once and for all,” Trump said.
A special task force consisting of representatives from several federal agencies is at work to identify dozens of ways to streamline the permitting process, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said ahead of Trump’s address.
“The current process takes far too long,” she said. “Streamlining the regulatory process not only cuts costs, it can improve the environmental outcomes by delivering infrastructure improvements more quickly. Resources will be spent on actual environmental mitigation, rather than stacks of paperwork.”
The goal of the streamlining process is to reduce the timeline for environmental reviews from an average of 10 years to two or less, Trump said.
“The lengthy process has caused enormous financial pain and blocked many important projects from getting off the ground,” he said.
“I was not elected to continue a failed system,” Trump said. “I was elected to change it.”
To illustrate his point, Trump thumbed through three large binders filled with hundreds of pages from an environmental review for an 18-mile road in Maryland before dumping them on the floor.
“This cost millions and millions of dollars,” he said. “It could be replaced with a few simple pages.”
Federal agencies will face penalties for missing deadlines for environmental permits, Trump said, and a new office within the Council of Economic Advisers will work with state and local governments on streamlining the permitting process.
“This is massive permitting reform,” he said. “It doesn’t sound glamorous, they won’t write stories about it, but it is so important.”
The president can accomplish much of his regulatory reform agenda through executive orders and directives without going through Congress, said Nick Goldstein, vice president for environmental and regulatory affairs at the American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA).
“But regulatory reform is a bipartisan issue,” Goldstein said. “There have been provisions in the last two transportation funding programs that tried to reduce the time needed to obtain permits.”
Permit reviews for large transportation projects can often take 10 years or more, he said.
“One study said the permitting process can take 13 years,” Goldstein said. “We should not have a regulatory process where a permit would qualify for a bar mitzvah.”
ARTBA will submit solutions for improving the regulatory process as requested by Secretary Chao, Goldstein said.
“We are glad the administration is focusing on streamlining the project review and approval process,” he said. “This has been a priority of ARTBA and we hope to work with the administration to help reduce needless delay.”
Regulatory reform is part of the solution but will not solve all the nation’s infrastructure problems, Goldstein said.
“Reform won’t do much good without a sustainable revenue stream to support the Highway Trust Fund,” he said. “It would be great to have the permits approved earlier, but nothing will get built without the money to begin the project.”
A White House spokesman said Trump would deliver a speech at the Labor Department on Wednesday to provide details on an apprenticeship program that would put 1 million people to work within two years that was first mentioned in a White House blog posting on Thursday. The president’s daughter Ivanka Trump will be part of the initiative, he said.
Trump signed an executive order in January shortly after his inauguration directing the chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality to coordinate "expedited procedures and deadlines for completion of environmental reviews and approvals" for infrastructure projects designated as a high priority by a governor or the head of a federal department or agency.