Amid fierce debate over the cost of the Trump administration's proposed infrastructure program, the White House has underscored its efforts to speed up regulatory reviews for projects — as a relatively low-cost element that businesses say helps them finance projects.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly hammered home his frustration with the permitting process, at press events often unrolling a lengthy scroll of paper showing a maze of more than a dozen federal agencies involved in building a new highway.
He again aired his frustrations with the system in a meeting with governors, mayors and local officials who assembled at the White House after the administration unveiled its infrastructure plan. "We can't give you money, and you're going to take 15 years to get a permit," Trump said.
The administration is calling for a single federal agency to take the lead on each project. It also would institute a firm deadline of two years to secure a permit — including 21 months for an environmental review, and three months after that for states to make a decision.
The current median length of time to complete an environmental impact study is 3½ years, according to 2016 data from the Department of Transportation. That represents a decline by nearly half since 2011, when the Obama administration put its first reforms into place.
The White House's inspiration for the two-year time frame comes from a report by regulatory reform advocacy group Common Good and its founder, Philip K. Howard. The white paper, titled "Two Years, Not Ten Years," suggests a politically accountable official with environmental experience should have sole discretion over the scope of a regulatory review.
The Common Good report uses the 64-foot raising of the Bayonne Bridge — an 87-year-old structure connecting northern New Jersey to New York's Staten Island — as a poster child for regulatory morass. The $1.6 billion "Raise the Roadway" project, first conceived in 2009 as a way to allow bigger ships and therefore more cargo into area ports, produced roughly 20,000 pages of environmental reviews.