Construction Permit Streamlining Bill Clears Senate

Business-backed bipartisan plan would create public ‘dashboard’ to track agency progress.

Tucked inside the long-term highway bill that cleared the Senate last Wednesday is a bill sought by the construction industry to speed up the multi-agency federal permitting process while assigning an agency coordinating body, curbing litigation and increasing transparency.

The Federal Permitting Improvement Act, introduced in January by Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., is designed to streamline a process “currently laden with uncertainty and unpredictability that hinders investment, economic growth, and job creation,” the senators said in a release.

“Infrastructure projects create good-paying jobs,” McCaskill said. “Businesses and employers shouldn’t have to go through unnecessarily bureaucratic or duplicative requirements that can delay these important investments we need for our country’s future.”

Portman urged the House to pass its own version, though that chamber so far has balked at the Senate’s larger multi-year highway bill called the Drive Act, passing a three-month version that President Obama just signed.

The permitting bill aims to improve coordination of permit granting in capital projects with price tags of at least $200 million in conventional energy production, electricity transmission, surface transportation, aviation, ports and waterways, water resources, broadband, pipelines and manufacturing. It would create an interagency task force run by the Office of Management and Budget, which would select a lead agency to coordinate deadlines.

It also would enhance transparency by requiring agencies to post timelines online with relevant documents, while requiring permitting managers to accept public comments earlier in the process.

To curb litigation, the bill would reduce the statute of limitations under the National Environmental Policy Act from six years to two years after notice of a project is published in the Federal Register. It would also permit courts to consider potential job losses in deciding on injunctive relief, and require agencies to consult earlier with industry and coordinate with states and localities.

The bill incorporates Obama’s 2012 executive order aimed at streamlining permitting.

Passage drew praise from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and North America's Building Trades Union, who note that the United States is ranked 41st by the World Bank in dealing with construction permits.