Top Administration Officials Advocate Streamlining Permitting in Closed Door Session

05/02/2019 9:10 AM | Deleted user

The Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC) hosted its first annual stakeholder engagement forum on efforts to streamline the federal permitting process on Tuesday, May 1. Kelly Lizarraga, Advocacy Coordinator at Cultural Heritage Partners, ACRA’s lobbying firm, attended the closed-door session. She brought back the following report for ACRA on what government leaders are saying about the future of federal permitting.

Top Trump Administration officials touted their efforts to shorten permitting timelines and detailed how projects on the FPISC dashboard save time and money. Andrew Wheeler, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, discussed how the EPA is tracking how long the permitting process takes – something that hadn’t been done prior to the Trump Administration. Wheeler said that his ultimate goal is to ensure that all permitting decisions get and up or down answer within six months. He also highlighted agency efforts to standardize the approach to all state permitting to ensure consistency nationwide.

Wheeler cited four steps he sees as critical to better coordination with other federal agencies:

  • 1.     Working with the USACE to ensure early engagement on 404 projects
  • 2.     Streamlining NEPA
  • 3.     Ending the alpha-numeric rating system that was not required by law
  • 4.     Keeping the FPISC dashboard up to date

R.D. James, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, also spoke at the forum. According to James, a group of state governors met with President Trump at the White House. Their biggest complaint was the permitting process at United States Army Corps of Engineers. He decried the current situation in which lawsuits have caused different states abide by different rules regarding the definitions of “waters of the United States” (WOTUS). He said that they are working on developing step two of WOTUS and expressed confidence that the new WOTUS will be very effective.

John Fowler, Executive Director of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation (ACHP), gave a brief overview of Section 106. He said that problems arise when there’s a failure to follow procedures. Fowler said that ACHP is committed to finding creative solutions to systemic challenges. As an example, he cited the creation of a new ACHP task force on digitization, on which ACRA President-Elect Nathan Boyless and ACRA Chief Lobbyist Marion Werkheiser will serve.

Fowler highlighted ACHP’s work to improve coordination between NEPA and Section 106 regulations. He stressed the importance of early and effective engagement with all stakeholders, and emphasized the importance of involving tribes early in the process. He mentioned ACHP’s work to create a tribal contact system.

In addition to Administration officials, the event featured Senator Portman (R-OH), FPISC officials, and industry representatives. Senator Portman (R-OH) discussed his role in passing FAST-41 legislation, which created FPISC, and stressed the importance of extending the sunset provision on the law. He highlighted the excitement in DC over infrastructure, but commented on the ongoing problem of how to fund it. FPISC Executive Director Alex Hergott moderated the event. Hergott talked about his vision of FPISC a “politically agnostic plan” in which common sense will guide solutions. FPISC officials gave a presentation on the steps in the permitting process and dashboard eligibility criteria, and industry representatives shared how the FPISC dashboard assisted their projects, which included a solar farm and a coastal restoration project in Louisiana.

Several of the speakers from the FPISC forum will testify today before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security, Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Senator Rob Portman will chair the hearing. Alex Hergott, Executive Director of FPISC, is the key witness.

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