Jul 31, 2018
The EIS Gets Streamlined, Accountable
Wouldn’t it be great if your doctor had to pay you a fine for making you wait past your scheduled appointment time? We’ve all thought about it. You’re held hostage to his or her authority while you wait, unable to move forward with your day, your job, your life…
Apply this aggravation to something much grander.
Imagine, if you will, you’ve financed the purchase of a large piece of equipment to undertake a highway project for which you won the bid at the beginning of one construction season. Now you wait on environmental reviews, authorizations, inter-agency double-speak and red tape, before you can break ground. Equipment payments are due. Workers need paychecks. The utility bills don’t stop because the OMB hasn’t issued guidance yet.
There’s finally good news on this front. The policy of One Federal Decision (OFD) requires a lead Federal agency to not only develop a permitting timetable for major infrastructure projects; it also requires that agency to follow the timetable. Let me quote a fact:
“Each major infrastructure project shall have a lead Federal agency, which shall be responsible for navigating the project through the Federal environmental review and authorization process, including the identification of a primary Federal point of contact at each Federal agency. All Federal cooperating and participating agencies shall identify points of contact for each project, cooperate with the lead Federal agency point of contact, and respond to all reasonable requests for information from the lead Federal agency in a timely manner.”
That is from the Federal Register Volume 82, Number 163, Executive Order 13807 of Aug. 15, 2017. That EO established “Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects.” Its overarching goal, as stated in the document, is “to ensure that the Federal environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects is coordinated, predictable, and transparent.”
As a sea turtle conservationist, I’m inclined to investigate such things closely. Let’s face it; I carry my own multi-use, stainless steel straws to keep those unsustainable, single-use straws out of the ecosystem. When someone, whether he’s the President of the free world or not, suggests we skip steps in environmental review, I get nervous. Here’s the thing: if you read all nine pages of EO 13807, which is not hard to do, you’ll see, as I did, that no one will be allowed to skip steps in anything.
In fact, steps are being made transparent and streamlined. Section 2, letters f through h, state: “It is the policy of the Federal Government to conduct environmental reviews and authorization processes in a coordinated, consistent, predictable, and timely manner in order to give public and private investors the confidence necessary to make funding decisions for new infrastructure projects; speak with a coordinated voice when conducting environmental reviews and making authorization decisions; and make timely decisions with the goal of completing all Federal environmental reviews and authorization decisions for major infrastructure projects within 2 years.”
There it is. Environmental review processes for infrastructure projects aren’t supposed to be mired in red tape for a decade or so while a water system’s pipes disintegrate into the water supply or a city’s traffic backs up to the next county. The OFD policy has its own Memorandum of Understanding, in which the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality worked with the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council to come up with a framework to implement EO 13807. They issued, March 20, the “One Federal Decision Framework for the Environmental Review and Authorization Process for Major Infrastructure Projects Under Executive Order 13807” (OFD Framework), which is free to download. It spells out, among many points, that a project will have a lead agency, which will be responsible for organizing the Federal environmental review. That agency will get everyone else to cooperate. That agency will set the permitting timetable. And that agency will prepare the environmental impact statement (EIS).
That sounds like accountability to me.
And it sounds like getting work done. Finally.