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Feds build framework for faster infrastructure OKs

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao was one of several cabinet members to sign off on President Trump’s One Federal Decision, a framework agreement for shortening the review and permitting processes for major infrastructure projects.

   President Donald Trump and the leaders of several federal agencies met on Monday to sign off on a proposal that aims to shorten the review and permitting process for major domestic infrastructure projects.
   Among the signatories to the memorandum of understanding, which instructs cabinet members and other federal departments to follow Trump’s One Federal Decision proposal, were Elaine Chao, secretary of the Department of Transportation; the secretaries of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Energy, and Homeland Security; and the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council.
   Established under an August 2017 executive order from Trump, the One Federal Decision policy seeks to streamline the current “inefficient environmental review processes” that have “led to unnecessary delays, depriving our communities of needed infrastructure projects,” the White House said in a statement announcing the signing.
   The ultimate goal of the framework is to reduce the average time to complete a federal environmental review for complex infrastructure projects from more than seven years to just two years.
   Under One Federal Decision, rather than having project reviews managed by multiple federal agencies, one lead agency “will be responsible for navigating each major infrastructure project through the entire federal environmental review and permitting process,” the administration said.
   The lead agency will coordinate with other relevant departments to develop a unified environmental impact statement and a single record of decision for each proposed project and will set a permitting timetable with a goal of completing the process within two years. Those various agencies also will conduct their reviews concurrently, as opposed to one after the other, with the goal of further cutting down on unnecessary delays.
   “The MOU will ensure interagency issues and disputes are elevated and resolved in a timely manner,” the White House said, adding that “previously, interagency disputes could remain unresolved for years.”
   The administration cited the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge Replacement Project in North Carolina, which took more than 20 years to complete, as one of several prime examples of how interagency disputes can bring projects to a near standstill under the current review process.
   “Had One Federal Decision been in place, agencies could have identified and resolved conflicts throughout project development and reduced their impact on project schedules,” it said.
   “No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay,” Trump said of the streamlined review process. “While protecting the environment, we will build gleaming new roads, bridges, railways, waterways, tunnels and highways.”
   “The Department [of Transportation] has been vigorously implementing the president’s One Federal Decision policy since last August to reduce costs and unnecessary burdens that have long delayed infrastructure projects,” Chao added in a statement from USDOT. “It is essential for all federal resource agencies to work together to cut red tape and deliver infrastructure and safety improvements more rapidly and spurring economic growth.”