Homeland Security Committee Approves Portman Bill to Improve Federal Permitting Process, Create Jobs

Bipartisan Vote Builds Momentum for Making Smarter Permitting Process Under FAST-41 Permanent

July 24, 2019 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today approved Senator Rob Portman’s (R-OH) Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act by voice vote.  The bill will build on efforts started in 2015 to improve the federal permitting process for some of the nation’s largest infrastructure projects.

In 2015, Senator Portman and then-Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) co-authored the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, which Congress ultimately enacted into law as Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.  That bill, now known as FAST-41, significantly reformed the federal infrastructure permitting process, while leaving environmental protections in place.  Most significantly, it created the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (Permitting Council), which brings together agencies at the start of the permitting process for some of the largest, most complicated infrastructure projects (covered projects) to write out a comprehensive plan for the permitting process across agencies.  The public can track the permitting progress for each of those projects at www.permits.performance.gov.  And for covered projects, FAST-41 reduces the statute of limitations for National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) challenges from six years to two. 

Portman released the following statement:

“I’m pleased that the committee approved the bill on a bipartisan basis today.  Since 2015, dozens of projects have benefited from FAST-41’s common-sense process that provides increased transparency and better communication between agencies charged with permitting infrastructure projects.  Those projects have included everything from natural gas pipelines to wind, solar, and hydro-electric energy projects.  And not only is FAST-41 benefiting our nation’s infrastructure, it is helping to create good jobs.  The Permitting Council has saved projects more than a billion dollars so far.  And we’ve now learned that for projects that voluntarily applied to become covered projects, the permitting process takes, on average, 2.3 years less than it would otherwise.  The goal of this legislation is to make FAST-41’s benefits permanent, apply it to more federal projects to ensure they get done on time and under budget, and expand the authority of the Permitting Council to see to it that those things happen. This is good for American jobs, the economy, and the environment.”

NOTE: Since FAST-41 became law, the Permitting Council has helped coordinate the permitting process for more than 40 projects, saving several projects millions of dollars, and resolving numerous interagency conflicts.  The Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act builds on those successes by:

·       Making FAST-41 Permanent.  Currently, FAST-41 has a seven-year sunset.  This bill will eliminate that sunset clause.

·       Applying FAST-41 to More Projects.  Currently, FAST-41 excludes several types of transportation projects from participating in the FAST-41 process (including those subject to 23 U.S.C. § 139 and 33 U.S.C. § 2348).  This bill will eliminate those exclusions so those projects can apply to be covered projects under FAST-41.

·       Setting a Two-Year Goal for Permitting Covered Projects.  For covered projects, agencies would have to demonstrate at the start of the project how they will complete the permitting process in two years or less, or explain why they cannot meet that goal and steps they will take to avoid delays.  This is a goal, not a mandate.

·       Expanding Permitting Council’s Consulting Authority.  Under Executive Order 13,807, the president ordered that, upon the request of a member agency or project sponsor, the Permitting Council may work with the agencies to facilitate the environmental reviews and help resolve disputes.  This bill will codify that consultation authority.