Portman and McCaskill Federal Permitting Bill Headed to the President for Signature

December 3, 2015 | Press Releases

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) today announced that their Federal Permitting Improvement Act of 2015 passed the House and Senate as part of the Highway Conference Report and is now headed to the President for signature.

Portman and McCaskill’s bipartisan legislation is designed to streamline and improve the federal permitting process, which is currently laden with uncertainty and unpredictability that hinders investment, economic growth, and job creation.  It is modeled on the commonsense, bipartisan permit-streamlining reforms of the 2006 and 2012 transportation bills and recommendations from the President’s Jobs Council, as well as other studies. 

“I’m pleased that our bipartisan bill to boost job-creation in Ohio will now become law,” said Portman. “By streamlining the federal permitting process, we will promote expansion, economic growth, and the hiring of American workers right here at home. It is supported by business and labor groups alike because it’s good for the economy and good for jobs. I’ll continue to promote job-creating measures to help Ohio workers.”

“It’s hard to get anything done in Washington these days, which is why the fact that we’ve finally gotten this commonsense provision across the finish line is all the more important,” said McCaskill, a former Missouri State Auditor and former Chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection. “We’ve scored a real victory today for businesses in this country who agree we need less red tape in government to boost businesses opportunities and invest in infrastructure projects that create good-paying jobs.”

“The U.S. business community also applauds the permit streamlining provisions included in the FAST Act to coordinate and speed up the review and approval of permitting for significant infrastructure and manufacturing projects,” said U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue. “Improving the permitting process to make our system swift but safe – one of the Chamber’s longstanding regulatory and legislative priorities – is essential for investment, development, and growth of the American economy.”

“In order to break ground on infrastructure projects, we first need to acquire the necessary permits,” said Sean McGarvey, President of the North America's Building Trades Unions. “Unfortunately, the United States has an abysmal record when it comes to dealing with construction permits. Businesses seeking to undertake major capital projects often must run the gauntlet of numerous separate agency reviews and approvals. That process is plagued by a lack of coordination, few deadlines, insufficient transparency, and litigation exposure as long as 6 years after securing required approvals. This is why North America's Building Trades Unions are pleased that the conference report for the surface transportation bill includes language that is based upon the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, which was sponsored by Senator Rob Portman and Claire McCaskill. Inclusion into the surface transportation bill of this commonsense bipartisan provision will provide greater certainty; streamline the process for approval of major capital infrastructure projects, and will keep our members at work and ensure further expansion of much-needed employment opportunities in the construction industry. We extend our thanks and appreciation to Senators Portman and McCaskill for their leadership on this issue, along with their diligence and hard work in making sure this provision was adopted by the conference committee.”

The United States ranks 41st in the world in “Dealing with Construction Permits,” a key World Bank metric measuring how easy it is to actually build something. 

Businesses seeking to undertake major capital projects often must run the gauntlet of a dozen separate agency approvals and reviews.  That process is plagued by a lack of coordination, few deadlines, insufficient transparency, and litigation exposure as long as 6 years after securing all required approvals.  State and local government authorities face the same obstacles when they seek federal permits for infrastructure projects. The resulting uncertainty surrounding major capital projects makes new construction and investments less attractive and hinders job creation. Several recent reports have highlighted the need for modernization of the permitting process, including the 2011 Year-End Report of the President’s Jobs Council, the Business Roundtable’s Permitting Jobs and Business Investment, and the Chamber of Commerce’s Project/No Project report.

The Federal Permitting Improvement Act would improve the permitting process for major capital projects in three ways: better coordination and deadline-setting for permitting decisions; enhanced transparency; and reduced litigation delays. The bill is limited to economically significant capital projects, defined based on the size of the total investment (more than $200 million), or other projects that would benefit from increased coordination. The bill covers major capital projects across all sectors, including renewable or conventional energy production, electricity transmission, surface transportation, aviation, ports and waterways, water resource projects, broadband, pipelines, manufacturing.

This bill also builds on and makes permanent the new permit streamlining project launched by the Obama Administration in 2012 under Executive Order 13,604, and available at permits.performance.gov.  It would not alter substantive standards or safeguards, but rather seeks to create a smarter, more transparent, better-managed process for government review and approval of major capital projects.

Key Reforms:

1. Better Coordination and Deadline-Setting

  • Creates an interagency council to identify best practices and deadlines for required reviews and approvals of various types of projects.
  • Establishes a formal role for a single “lead agency” to set a permitting timetable for each major capital project, in consultation with participating agencies and based on OMB guidance.
  • Encourages greater cooperation with state and local permitting authorities.
  • Encourages agencies to conduct environmental reviews by the most efficient process available.

2. Greater Transparency and Early Public Participation

  • Creates a public, on-line “dashboard” to track agency progress on required approvals and reviews of major capital projects and to provide access to relevant documents.
  • Requires agencies to reach out to accept comments from stakeholders early in the approval and review process, with the aim of identifying and addressing important public concerns early.

3. Litigation Reforms

  • Reduces the current (default) statute of limitations on NEPA suits from 6 years to 2 years.
  • Permits courts to consider the negative effects on jobs when deciding whether to block a project.