Building infrastructure quickly and intelligently

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The Biden administration released a permitting action plan this week. The plan promises to deliver infrastructure investments on time and on budget that will revitalize communities across the country. The plan is based on five key elements:

  • Early cross-agency coordination
  • Clear schedules and follow-up
  • Early and meaningful contact
  • Improved agency responsiveness and technical support
  • Positive community outcomes

What is needed?

Last November, Congress passed a landmark infrastructure bill. It offers a unique opportunity to address overdue improvements to the country’s energy, water, sanitation and other infrastructure. It can create jobs, transition the nation to cleaner energy sources, and foster thriving communities.

Our country’s laws include various permitting requirements to ensure that infrastructure decisions are made by the affected communities. Everyone agrees that permits and the protection that comes with them are important. Urgent infrastructure needs a permit that is both efficient and effective.

what’s new

With his Permitting Action Plan, President Biden has committed to building the infrastructure on time, on schedule and on budget. An interagency Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPICS) will improve coordination between agencies and resolve issues that are consistent with climate, economic and equity goals.

  • Deadlines for Action – Sectoral teams have 60 days to submit a charter to the Permits Council setting out actions to promote permit effectiveness and timeliness. Sector teams include: (1) offshore wind energy and transmission; (2) Onshore renewable energy and transmission; (3) broadband; (4) production and processing of critical minerals; (5) transportation; and (6) climate-smart infrastructure.
  • Technical Support – Agencies identify, share or develop resources, training and tools to support project sponsors, permit applicants, affected communities, tribal communities and other stakeholders. The plan recognizes that engaging the public and conducting environmental assessments quickly requires manpower and resources. Many agencies, such as the Bureau of Land Management, have lost staff with the necessary expertise needed to conduct effective environmental assessments in recent years. Local communities—as well as state, local, and tribal governments—need financial support to quickly and meaningfully participate in project development. Tribal Historic Preservation Officers need resources to ensure projects such as wind farms, pipelines or transmission lines are built in a manner that protects historical and cultural assets. Infrastructure money should finance such capacities as well as concrete.

What do we do now?

The Biden-Harris Permitting Action Plan points the country in the right direction. Now we need agencies that deliver. You will need the help and collaboration of the various stakeholders from groups like NRDC as well as industry. Together we can deliver projects the nation needs, built to help local communities thrive.

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