WASHINGTON, D.C. - At an Energy & Natural Resources Committee hearing earlier today, Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) highlighted the importance of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) complying with the federal law streamlining the federal infrastructure permitting process for some of the biggest infrastructure projects. Currently, FERC is not posting their permitting schedule to the dashboard in direct violation of Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

In 2015, Senators Portman and 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 law, now known as FAST-41, helps to streamline the federal infrastructure permitting process to boost our economy and create jobs. 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.

A full transcript of his remarks and the video can be found below:

Portman: “I’ve got an important issue I need to raise with you and that’s on the permitting front. As you know, back in the day during the highway bill we got into Title 41 of the FAST Act, legislation I introduced with Senator McCaskill and it’s called the Federal Permitting Improvement Act. It creates this Federal Permitting Improvement Council. We’re all talking about permitting now on both sides of the aisle and how to have that infrastructure dollar go further. Energy is a huge part of these projects. In fact, I got involved in this project initially because a group came to me, AMP in Ohio, and they were working on a hydro-plant on the Ohio River. I think at that point it had taken six years to try and get the permits and there were so many federal agencies involved, the right hand not knowing what the left hand was doing. Capital is not that patient and they were losing capital and they came to me and said, ‘Is there any way you can, on these big energy projects like this, help us actually get a decision, get the federal agencies to coordinate and have someone to be held accountable?’  So we went to work on it and in the end we got the AFL-CIO building trades council, as well as some environmental groups, as well as the business community on board. Again, I think it is fair to say that this has become something that a lot us are acutely interested in. 

“One thing it does, and this shouldn’t be revolutionary but it is, was it set project deadlines. It made it a requirement that we actually publicly allowed the parties and the public to see, through a dashboard, what the deadlines were. As you know, FERC is responsible for taking a leading role in these large, complex, infrastructure projects including the non-federal hydro-power projects, interstate and natural gas pipelines, storage facilities, liquefied natural gas terminals, and other huge projects. You guys are the lead agency on a lot of the in-progress and completed FAST-41 projects and we appreciate that. A number are listed, you can see them on permits.performace.gov if anybody is interested who’s watching, there’s an online dashboard for that. You guys also recently signed a memorandum of understanding implementing the one federal decision under Executive Order 13807 requiring federal agencies to coordinate their NEPA reviews, which I commend you for, I think that was a good decision, I know Senator Gardner raised that. 

“Here’s my question for you, and maybe Chairman McIntyre you’re the right person to answer this question. When we wrote FAST-41 we always intended that every single permitting agency would be required to put its schedule for permitting each project on the dashboard. Again, it’s a major part of the legislation. Some people, by the way, on my side of the aisle wanted to have firmer deadlines in place, and others on the other side of the aisle didn’t want to have any deadlines, and this was the compromise. At least let’s put those deadlines out there so that the public can see and people know what’s going on. It’s the only way the bill works, in my view, and it requires agencies to work together to have a complete timeline and deadline. To have one agency be accountable is also important. My understanding is that FERC has not been willing to post its schedule. Last year we had a hearing on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which I chair, and your staff members told me you couldn’t post your timelines because of internal regulations, and they said you have to talk to the commissioners about that. So, here you are and I’m talking to you. Statutes trump regulations and the statute is clear. So, I guess my question is does FERC plan to start posting its timelines publically? If not, why not? And, if not, doesn’t your lack of participation defeat the purpose of the statute and the very things, I think on a bipartisan basis, we’re all looking to see here, which is these programs get up and going more quickly.” 

Honorable Kevin J. McIntyre, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC): “Thank you for the question, senator. I want to begin by thanking you for raising the critical point of permitting schedules because we understand that. Much of the work that we’re doing now to improve our own internal processes is with an eye toward making our permitting approvals in the areas you cited, LNG terminals, natural gas pipelines, and hydro facilities more streamlined, more predictable, and more transparent, so we’re actively at work at that. As to the posting of information schedules on the dashboard, that’s something I will look into with my staff and would be happy to work on with you and your staff as well.” 

Portman: “Well, I appreciate that answer, but I’d like a yes because it’s a statute. You guys understand a statute, you know what the rules are, so could you commit to us today that you will indeed post your timelines publicly.” 

Hon. McIntyre: “I will commit to you today that I will do that which is legally required of us, senator. And since I have not had the opportunity to discuss this specific point you are raising with my legal team and staff more broadly, I’m reluctant to say more than that at present.” 

Portman: Within a week, I’d like to have another conversation with you when you’ve had the opportunity to do that. Is that fair?” 

Hon. McIntyre: “I would welcome that.” 

Portman: So you made a commitment to talk to me within a week, and I think when you talk to your staff they’ll be very well aware of this issue and will tell you that the statute requires it but look, I think it’s really important. FERC has a huge role to play in so many areas but one is these permittings, and, again, I’m convinced that we can do better and we’re starting to do better. The permitting council has finally gotten up and going. It started slowly in the Obama administration and in the first part of the Trump administration, frankly, but now it’s up and going. We need your help, you’re a big part of it. On implementing the one federal decision, how are you determining which projects will be treated as one federal decision projects?” 

Hon. McIntyre: “The one federal decision process, establishes essentially a  government-wide goal of two years, and we are endeavoring to address that through our FERC processes, recognizing, of course, the roles of the other entities involved in that as well.” 

Portman: Well, if you could get back to me on how you’re identifying which projects are eligible, my time is expired and I appreciate and look forward to talking with you in a week and thank you all for being here today.”