President Trump continues to focus on streamlining and expediting government reviews for large-scale infrastructure projects, including oil and gas pipelines. On January 24, the President signed an Executive Order (EO) focused on expediting the permitting process for such projects. In the EO, President Trump stated that “[t]oo often, infrastructure projects in the United States have been routinely and excessively delayed by agency processes and procedures.”
The executive order related to expediting permitting and approval of energy infrastructure generally outlines the policy of the executive branch to “streamline and expedite in a manner consistent with law, environmental reviews and approvals” all infrastructure projects, and high priority projects in particular “such as improving the U.S. electric grid and telecommunications systems and repairing and upgrading critical port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges and highways.” Further, the directive to agencies is broad: “shall give highest priority to completing such reviews and approvals by the established deadlines using all necessary and appropriate means.”
In order to address such delays, the EO directs the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to decide whether an infrastructure project requiring Federal reviews or permits qualifies as “high priority.” Such a decision must be made within 30 days of receiving a request from the Governor of a State, or the head of any executive department or agency, or on the Chairman’s own initiative. In making this decision, the EO states that the CEQ should consider the project’s “importance to the general welfare, value to the Nation, environmental benefits, and such other facts the [CEQ] deems relevant.”
Once a project is designated as high priority, the EO directs the CEQ to coordinate with the head of the “relevant agency” in order to develop “expedited procedures and deadlines for completion of environmental reviews and approvals.” If a deadline is not met, then the relevant agency must provide a written explanation to the CEQ explaining the causes for the delay and actions taken to complete the reviews as “expeditiously as possible.”
Large scale infrastructure projects require a myriad of federal permits and approvals under a variety of federal statutes, which can be subject to delays from agency reviews and consultations. This EO is intended to expedite these approvals for qualifying projects.