The Biden administration released a new Permitting Action Plan to “strengthen and accelerate Federal permitting and environmental reviews by fully leveraging existing permitting authorities, as well as new provisions in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”
According to the White House, the Action Plan “outlines the Administration’s strategy for ensuring that Federal environmental reviews and permitting processes are effective, efficient, and transparent, guided by the best available science to promote positive environmental and community outcomes, and shaped by early and meaningful public engagement.”
The Plan has five key elements:
Accelerating Smart Permitting through Early Cross-Agency Coordination
Ensuring early coordination and effective communication across Federal agencies is critical for moving infrastructure projects forward efficiently and on-time. Under the Permitting Action Plan, the Administration will:
- Leverage the interagency Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council’s expanded authorities under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to improve coordination among agencies, help avoid and resolve potential conflicts and bottlenecks, identify and share best practices, and accelerate information sharing and troubleshooting;
- Convene sector-specific teams of experts to facilitate interagency coordination on siting, permitting, supply chain, and related issues, and promote efficient and timely reviews;
- Leverage the Department of Transportation’s Interagency Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Center to help facilitate environmental review and permitting for Bipartisan Infrastructure Law-funded transportation projects by developing guidance, sharing best practices, coordinating reviews, tracking project milestones and outcomes, and exploring innovative approaches;
- Develop and prepare new approaches to permitting and environmental review that help address common issues, eliminate duplication, and site and design projects in a way that reduces resource conflicts and incorporates a climate-smart approach; and
- Work to reform outdated permitting laws and regulations, such as the Mining Law of 1872, to establish stronger environmental, sustainability, safety, Tribal consultation, and community engagement standards.
Establishing Clear Timeline Goals and Tracking Key Project Information
Communities and project proponents all benefit from having clear information about the schedules, key milestones and deadlines, and public comment opportunities for the environmental review and permitting of major projects. Timeline goals and up-to-date information increase accountability, encourage efficiency, enable greater public participation in project decisions, and build greater trust in government. Under the Permitting Action Plan, agencies will:
- Create permitting schedules with clear timeline goals that are both ambitious and realistic, contain relevant milestones, and meet all requirements in applicable law to complete environmental review and permitting in a sound and timely manner;
- Increase transparency and accountability by tracking key project information, including timetables and milestones, on the Federal Permitting Dashboard; and
- Identify the lead Federal agency that will be responsible for working with other agencies in the permitting processes to develop and implement coordination plans, interagency agreements, or other tools designed to ensure sustained and effective coordination and accountability.
Engaging in Early and Meaningful Outreach with States, Tribal Nations, Territories, and Local Communities
Proactive, early, and ongoing engagement with the public, including disadvantaged, underserved, or overburdened communities, and State, Tribal, local, and territorial partners is fundamental to delivering timely projects that serve the needs and priorities of communities across the country. As part of a robust engagement strategy, which will help inform agencies’ decision-making, agencies will:
- Consult with affected Tribal Nations as early as possible, in a sustained manner, and in a fashion that respects the Nation-to-Nation relationship;
- Proactively partner and coordinate with relevant State, territorial, and local governments as early as possible and in a sustained manner; and
- Review and update policies, procedures, and staffing to ensure that the public, including disadvantaged communities, has a meaningful opportunity to participate in decision-making.
Improving Agency Responsiveness, Technical Assistance, and Support
Providing responsive technical assistance and support helps project sponsors, permit applicants, affected communities, Tribal communities, and other stakeholders navigate the environmental review and permitting process effectively and efficiently. To address this need, agencies will:
- Identify, share, or develop resources, trainings, and tools to help stakeholders navigate the environmental review and permitting process effectively and efficiently; and
- Review environmental review and permitting information collection requirements to help consolidate or simplify reporting requirements, and identify ways that information can be collected more efficiently.
Using Agency Resources and Environmental Reviews to Improve Impact
Timely, informative environmental reviews that are guided by the best available science and help deliver positive environmental and community impact require sufficient levels of skilled agency staff and effective use of budgetary resources. Agencies should therefore:
- Prioritize available resources to address workforce needs and implementation of the initiatives in this Action Plan;
- Use best practices for accelerated hiring and coordinating with other agencies to efficiently use existing resources, such as conducting collaborative field studies and funding liaison positions; and
- Use technology, data, and tools to efficiently and holistically assess environmental and community effects, including information on climate change effects, and identify ways to use new technology to collect, analyze, share, and publicly communicate relevant information.
See the full plan here.