- The heads of several federal agencies have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) agreeing to collaborate and speed along environmental reviews and permitting for major infrastructure projects under the One Federal Decision (OFD) executive order established by President Donald Trump.
- The MOU's signatories include Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Benjamin Carson, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. According to the memo, federal agencies that have a part in the environmental review and permitting process for a significant infrastructure project must work together to prepare one permitting timetable that identifies all important project authorizations, create a single environmental impact statement, sign a record of decision (ROD) and issue all necessary authorizations within 90 days of the signed ROD. The goal of the OFD policy is to cut permitting time to no more than two years, with one agency as lead.
- Reducing the time it takes for highways, bridges and other significant infrastructure projects to get through the environmental review process and to obtain approvals from multiple agencies was a key campaign promise in Trump's run up to the 2016 presidential election. That platform was one driver behind the support Trump amassed among construction industry businesses and organizations.
The Trump administration reportedly is pausing a big push for passage of its $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan until after the midterm elections this fall. Instead, officials have said the White House will focus on expediting the infrastructure project permitting process.
According to a 2015 report by nonprofit group Common Good, permitting delays can increase costs for major infrastructure projects by 5.1% per year. The group said a six-year delay in beginning construction on public projects would cost the U.S. almost $4 trillion, which includes the costs of continuing inefficiencies and prolonged periods of pollution. That figure would almost cover the $4.6 trillion that the American Society of Civil Engineers said is needed to repair U.S. infrastructure.
Earlier this month, the $13 billion Hudson River tunnel replacement project missed a self-imposed deadline for completing the environmental review process because the Department of Transportation has not yet signed off on the required impact study. The agency said the project is so large in size and scope that several DOT agencies must review it in order to properly address legal and community concerns.
However, the delayed authorization could cost project officials $6 billion in federal funding if they miss the July 14 application deadline. The president reportedly does not support federal funding for the project, and, in recent comments before a congressional committee, Chao said he is intentionally trying to block its access to federal money.