Today the Obama Administration announced a Presidential Memorandum that expands a government-wide effort to improve the Federal permitting and review process. This is a big step for USDA because it will help us ensure timely decision-making and review of infrastructure projects, while ensuring the environmental protections that stand at the heart of the review process.
It’s very important to President Obama and I that well-managed, beneficial projects aren’t held up by unnecessary delays. USDA is committed to the President’s goals of modernizing the permitting and review of infrastructure projects because our efforts are particularly important in rural America. By ensuring timely review of projects, we can better carry out our mission to strengthen community infrastructure and provide opportunities for rural America to create clean, renewable energy. By fostering greater transparency and predictability in the Federal permitting process, we’ll be able to deliver better value for the taxpayer while still avoiding negative impacts to our natural and cultural resources, which remain equally important drivers of economic opportunity.
Today’s announcement establishes milestones for interagency coordination and collaboration to institutionalize key best practices intended to cut timelines for permitting projects in half, while also improving outcomes for communities and the environment. This effort builds on the results of a government-wide effort that was launched on March 22, 2012, when the President issued an Executive Order to improve the efficiency of Federal review and permitting of infrastructure projects. Since then, agencies have expedited the review and permitting of 50 major projects, including bridges, transit projects, railways, waterways, roads, and renewable energy. To date these projects are already showing results. For example, the Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project and many other projects have already completed the Federal review and permitting process, saving from 2-3 months up to three years. Further results are detailed in a Report to the President that was published today on http://permits.performance.gov.
Two agencies at USDA have been particularly active in supporting these efforts: the U.S. Forest Service and the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). The Forest Service is entrusted with management and stewardship of 193 million acres of national forests and must conduct the requisite environmental analysis for proposed projects impacting these lands. RUS, through loans and grants, helps rural America finance electric, telecommunications, and water and waste water projects and must conduct appropriate environmental review associated with these financial award decisions.
Both agencies have been working to make best practices for permitting and review the norm through:
- Timely coordination and collaboration with other federal permitting agencies and state, local and tribal governments to reduce redundancies. This also helps to facilitate coordinated and concurrent, rather than sequential reviews;
- Improving stakeholder outreach and engagement;
- Promoting the sharing of scientific and environmental data in accessible data formats to inform project planning; and
- Improving transparency for proponents and the general public through establishing clear application requirements and through the online tracking of permitting and review schedules for regionally and nationally significant projects.
Today’s announcement will further expand the use of best practices that can help the agencies cut review times, while maintaining the important spirit of a review process that’s critical in avoiding or mitigating negative impacts.