On September 22, the Administration announced two new policies that will facilitate a more transparent and efficient permitting and review process for complex infrastructure projects.
First, federal agencies announced the first update in 30 years to the Red Book, an interagency guidance document which identifies strategies to synchronize the environmental reviews of infrastructure projects. Under the updated guidance, reviews under NEPA, Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, Title 33 of the U.S. Code, and the Endangered Species Act are to be completed concurrently as opposed to sequentially. While the original Red Book was limited to transportation, the revised version applies to a broader set of infrastructure projects. It was developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Transportation, the U.S. Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The development of this guidance was identified as a deliverable in the May 2014 government-wide plan to modernize infrastructure permitting. Once implemented, this policy reform can cut months or even years from project timelines by eliminating duplication and inefficiencies.
In addition, in new guidance released today, the White House Office of Management and Budget and Council on Environmental Quality directed eleven federal agencies that play a significant role in the permitting, review, funding, and development of infrastructure projects to begin developing and tracking project schedules for all complex infrastructure projects on a public website, the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard. From now on, all new infrastructure projects that meet certain criteria will have public schedules that capture and track key milestones. This applies to all projects that require an Environmental Impact Statement, all complex projects with a total investment over $200 million, or any other projects deemed appropriate by the agencies. The guidance covers a variety of sectors, including renewable energy generation, electricity transmission, water resource projects, pipelines, and surface transportation, among others. In the next 90 days, agencies will begin identifying the first set of infrastructure projects eligible to be added to the Dashboard.
What does this mean for project developers? First, a more efficient and well-coordinated permitting process. The policy of synchronizing agency reviews, combined with the fact that agencies will be required to prepare project schedules, will help institutionalize early coordination among all the key federal agencies with review responsibilities and ensure that federal reviews take place concurrently, and not sequentially. A public schedule will also help improve agency accountability. In fact, before October 12, 2015, agencies are required to identify a Senior Accountable Official responsible for ensuring that project schedules are completed and that they remain on track. In the long run, tracking information on project timelines will help develop necessary baseline data to identify system-wide improvements and opportunities to further reduce project timelines.