Trump Praises New Rule to Speed up Environmental Reviews for Major Infrastructure Projects

July 16, 2020 Updated: July 16, 2020

President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised a new rule under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to help speed up environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects.

“This is a truly historic breakthrough, which means better roads, bridges, tunnels, and highways for every UPS driver and every citizen all across our land,” Trump said at a visit to a UPS facility in Atlanta, Georgia, on Wednesday. “Together, we’re reclaiming America’s proud heritage as a nation of builders and a nation that can get things done.”

“Today’s action is part of my administration’s fierce commitment to slashing the web of needless bureaucracy that is holding back our citizens,” he later said.

NEPA (pdf), a procedural statute enacted in 1970 under the Nixon administration, requires the federal government to assess the impact of major projects on the environment.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) said that the regulations “have been complex and unnecessarily difficult to understand and navigate,” where the result “has been excessive paperwork, litigation, and delays.”

The council added that its final rule (pdf), titled “Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act,” is the first time in more than 40 years it has updated the NEPA regulations. The rule will “benefit the environment, economy, and every American,” it said in a statement (pdf).

The White House said in an announcement that ever since NEPA’s enactment, the environmental review process has been “burdensome” for those seeking permits or approvals for their projects, as well as for the federal agencies conducting the reviews.

The latest rule establishes time limits of two years for completion of environmental impact statements, when required, and one year for completion of environmental assessments.

Federal agencies would take on average about four-and-a-half years to complete full environmental impact reviews, the CEQ noted. In the case of highway projects, that number rises to an average of more than 7 years.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge
The Chesapeake Bay Bridge, a major dual-span bridge in Maryland, is seen at sunset in Stevensville, Maryland, on May 2, 2020. (Eric Baradat/AFP via Getty Images)

“Under the last administration, a mere 7 percent of reviews for federal highways were processed within 2 years,” Trump said. “Now what we’re doing is the two years won’t be the exception; it’ll be the rule … This will reduce approval times for highways alone by at least 70 percent.”

Trump said that the One Federal Decision policy, aspects of which have been incorporated into the final rule, lies “at the heart of the reforms.” The One Federal Decision policy was established in a 2017 executive order.

“It really spells it out when you hear that name: One Federal Decision. Before, applicants for infrastructure permits were forced to spend years and years navigating a labyrinth of federal agencies, and every single one had a power to stop a project. Anytime you went to an agency, they had a power to stop it,” the president explained. “And it would stop the project—not only stop it; but right in its tracks it would stop it.

“With our reforms, there will be one quick and fair decision. We’re going to give every project a clear answer: Yes or no. Yes or no. The 2-year process, where just to submit is 2 years, is not acceptable. It’s going to be a very quick ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ after study, but the studies are going to go quickly and they’re going to go simultaneously,” he continued. “So if you’re in numerous agencies, you’re all going at the same time.”

trump UPS
President Donald Trump speaks on the “Rebuilding of Americas Infrastructure: Faster, Better, Stronger” in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 15, 2020. (Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images)

Trump noted that permits for projects may not be approved, but that applicants will not have to “devote a lifetime” to have a project be under review.

“You have to get permits. We want safety. We want to be totally involved with the environment … But you’re going to get your answers quickly,” Trump said. “One way or the other, you’re going to get those answers very quickly. And if the answer is a big, beautiful ‘yes,’ you’re going to start construction immediately. You’re not going to wait around for 10, 12, and 20 years.”

“Our bridges, tunnels, freeways, and airports will no longer be the sight of shame, but they’ll be a source of pride. From coast to coast, town to town, we’re constructing new roads, railways, runways, and waterways … As your president, I am more determined than ever that America’s infrastructure will be second to none,” he later added.

Trump said that the infrastructure approval process under NEPA “has cost trillions of dollars over the years for our country and delays like you wouldn’t believe” and hailed his administration’s latest actions as a “top-to-bottom overhaul” of that process.

The CEQ said that in addition to setting a 2-year goal for completing environmental reviews, it will, among other actions, expand public participation and the involvement of tribal governments in the NEPA process through the use of modern technology, and codify certain court decisions to clarify the application of NEPA.

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