Table of Contents
- What is the new Infrastructure act?
- How will the permitting process change because of the new law?
- How it the new law different from the other infrastructure bills?
- How to get ahead of the permitting process by working with a national permit management company.
Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act earmarks $550 billion in new funds for rebuilding roads, bridges, water, and other infrastructure. All this means that various development or alteration projects will have their permitting processes affected by this new bill. At Service First Permits, we attempt to simplify this new law and shed light on how it will make it will simplify the federal environmental permitting process.
What is the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act?
Overall, this new law is related to highways and transit, motor carrier safety, rail programs, and more. The different areas covered under the bill include the following:
- It plans to expand the grid’s high-voltage transmission-line network to enable delivery of renewable energy via high-priority transmission corridors.
- It plans to expand high-speed internet access to rural and undeserved areas.
- It plans to support electrification of passenger vehicles through the development of a national public EV charging network.
Changes in Permitting Process for Land Development
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) is another attempt by the government to streamline environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The provisions under NEPA created systems for streamlining the environmental review process for projects known as ‘covered projects’. These are infrastructure projects exceeding a certain amount and requiring NEPA permit, but do not qualify for abbreviated processes. With the new law, the government has codified the relevant provisions of the earlier law and made them permanent.
The IIJA has also codified the One Federal Decision (OFD) process that brings down the average duration for environmental reviews to 2 years. The OFD has shortened the time available to the lead agency for inviting other agencies for review from 45 days to 21 days. It also requires the relevant permitting agencies to issue Record of Decision (ROD) within 90 days of a final Environmental impact statement (EIS) is issued. This was earlier set at an average of 5 months.
How the Infrastructure Bill Eases Environmental Permitting?
The provisions in the Infrastructure Bill are intended to make the permitting process more efficient and to facilitate the construction of infrastructure projects, inclusive of renewable energy projects. These provisions take previous measures to address delays and costs linked to obtaining approvals under different federal environmental and wildlife regulations for constructing and operating infrastructure and relevant facilities.
Previously, a key area of challenge has had been the implementation of the requirements related to the analysis of the federal actions’ impact on the environment under the NEPA. These statements could be thousands of pages long and could take years to be completed. This used to cause significant delays in projects that needed federal approvals.
The Infrastructure Bill takes the goals and intentions behind the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST) to the next level. The primary goal is to make the federal environmental permitting process speedier.
The FAST Act had a wide range of regulations relevant to the federal permitting processes for both transportation and other major infrastructure projects. The Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council was created under the act with the goal of improving:
And creating an online dashboard to keep track of the permitting process for each project. The previous, Trump administration, passed the Executive Order 13807 to bring greater accountability and discipline to the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects. It featured a ‘one federal decision’ policy which required federal agencies to issue a single ROD for major infrastructure projects. The executive order was withdrawn by the Biden administration when it came to power.
The provisions of the Infrastructure Bill codify many requirements of the EO 13807. This include the single federal decision policy and the need to complete the NEPA process within 2 years. The various requirements of this bill are as follows:
- The relevant federal agencies are required to prepare a single and joint multi-agency EIS for a project until the lead agency can justify that multiple documents mean greater efficiency.
- The federal agencies are required to issue an ROD within 90 days of issuing the final EIS. As mentioned above, this provision brings down the time for inviting other agencies to participate from 45 days to 21 days.
- The Council is required to create recommended performance routines of 2 years or lesser.
- The federal agencies must submit reports to assess their performance in the implementation of best practices.
Expectations from the New Law
These provisions are set to bring notable improvement in the federal permitting process, especially in the area of preparation of analysis needed under the NEPA. While the 2-year permit processing period is not an enforceable timeline, this goal and the new underlying systems in each agency for assessing achievement of the goal can encourage agencies in specific cases to make the required effort to stick to this deadline. Additionally, the need that agencies issue their final decisions about a project within 90 days of publishing the final EIS can further contribute to preventing delays.
The Infrastructure Bill also requires the Secretary of Transportation to consult with different agencies including the following to identify the exclusions that could speed up the project if they were available to these agencies within 6 months of the law coming to power and every 4 years after that:
And other federal agencies engaged in the environmental review process related to a project.
How all these changes brought about by the new infrastructure law will impact development projects, will take years to realize.
According to the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPISC), the FAST-41 process had been responsible for saving up to 45% time. Besides this aspect, there are a series of technology development incentives, loan financing options, and grants within the Act. It will take some time for businesses to fully understand the scope of these programs available for helping them. It will also be required to understand the conditions and report requirements that may come along.