President Trump is making environmental permitting reform a key piece of his infrastructure plan announced Monday morning.
A White House official told the Washington Examiner that one of the main principles of Trump’s infrastructure proposal is to reduce the “burdensome permitting process from an average of 10 years to two.”
The infrastructure plan says environmental reviews must be conducted in no more than 21 months. It calls for changes in how the government conducts environmental reviews, including streamlining the National Environmental Policy Act’s requirements and potential reforms to the Clean Water and Clean Air acts.
The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, mandates that agency decisions that could have an environmental impact on the nation’s air, water, or wildlife habitats include a scientific analysis of potential effects.
Trump's plan would force the White House Council on Environmental Quality to issues regulations to “streamline” the NEPA process.
His nominee to lead the council, Kathleen Hartnett White, recently removed herself from consideration for the post after Democrats objected to her climate change views, and few Republicans came to her defense.
“Requiring [the Council on Environmental Quality] to revise its regulations to streamline NEPA would reduce the time and costs associated with the NEPA process and would increase efficiency, predictability, and transparency in environmental reviews,” the White House said.
Democrats and environmentalists quickly panned that effort.
“With this infrastructure plan, President Trump would line the pockets of oil and gas companies while steamrolling environmental safeguards,” said Drew McConville, senior managing director of the Wilderness Society. “He is taking a bipartisan priority and turning it into a divisive scheme to reward friends in the fossil fuel sector.”
The Wilderness Society expects the Trump plan to give the Interior Department the authority to approve natural gas pipeline routes that cut through national parks.
Trump proposed allowing some revenue from energy development on public lands to pay for capital and maintenance costs of infrastructure built on federal lands. Additionally, the proposal would end the EPA’s final review of environmental impact statements devised by other agencies.
“The extra review adds a step to the environmental review process that can cause delays without increasing protection to the environment,” the White House plan said.
The plan would allow for more frequent use of “categorical exclusions” if officials determine the proposed activities have no environmental impact, meaning they aren’t subjected to federal reviews. It would do this by allowing agencies to essentially borrow "categorical exclusions" used by other agencies without issuing a new rule.
Other proposed changes to permitting include requiring federal agencies to conduct concurrent environmental reviews, rather than consecutive reviews, in order to speed up the process. The White House argued that would reduce duplicative reviews by letting the main agency with expertise lead the process.
The plan will "expand processes that allow environmental review and permitting decisions to be delegated to states,” according to the White House.
It aims to create two new pilot programs to test ways to improve the environmental review process.
Congressional Republicans focused on energy issues complimented the Trump administration for focusing on permitting reform.
“Please permit us to say that President Trump hit the nail on the head when constructing this plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure,” said Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., Fred Upton, R-Mich., John Shimkus R-Il., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., in a joint statement. “Here at the Energy and Commerce Committee we have been working hard to build out a legislative agenda that promotes broadband deployment and improves our energy infrastructure and environmental protections.”