Federal plan aiming to modernize federal permitting, review process released

A federal plan that aims to, by June 30, set aggressive permit decision-making and review schedules for nationally or regionally significant projects, including electricity transmission projects, that show how certain best practices and innovative processes can improve performance, was released June 11.

Neal Kemkar, deputy associate director for Energy and Climate Change, White House Council on Environmental Quality, said June 11 at the Western Governors’ Association meeting in Cle Elum, Wash., that the plan has four main goals, including predictable schedules and coordination across jurisdictions.

President Obama in March signed an executive order that aimed to improve the performance of federal permitting and review of infrastructure projects. According to that order, a steering committee is to facilitate improvements in federal permitting and review processes for infrastructure projects in such sectors as electricity transmission and renewable energy generation.

Federal agencies have engaged in an interagency initiative to scale up and institutionalize their efforts to modernize and transform how the federal government fulfills its responsibilities, according to “A federal plan for modernizing the federal permitting and review process for better projects, improved environmental and community outcomes, and quicker decisions.”

According to the plan, it has two overarching goals:

  • More efficient and effective review of proposed large-scale and complex infrastructure projects, resulting in better projects, improved outcomes for communities and faster permit decision-making and review timelines.
  • Transparency, predictability, accountability and continuous improvement of routine infrastructure permitting and reviews, including reviewing, updating and improving timelines and processes annually to reflect continuous improvement.

The plan also noted that federal agencies are not the only governmental entities with permitting and review responsibilities for infrastructure projects. Multiple tribal, state and local governments may also have key decision-making responsibilities for a given infrastructure project, particularly for long, linear projects like transmission lines.

“It is imperative that federal agencies coordinate early and continuously with other governmental jurisdictions in order to work efficiently and minimize duplication and delays,” the plan added.

An action included in the plan calls to assure that clear descriptions of the application processes for all major federal permitting and review processes for infrastructure projects are publicly available.

Where this best practice is not already in place, agencies will identify opportunities to do so in their individual agency plans and report on progress annually. “For transmission and renewable energy projects, agencies shall coordinate with the existing transmission and renewable rapid response teams [(RRTs)] so that this information can be easily included,” the plan added.

Another action called for the development of an application toolkit for electricity transmission and renewable energy projects. The co-chairs of the transmission RRT will deliver a plan and schedule for launching an application toolkit for transmission projects to the federal chief performance officer at the Office of Management and Budget by Nov. 30. The co-chairs of the renewable energy RRT will deliver a plan and schedule for launching an application toolkit for renewable energy projects by Dec. 31, the plan added.

Among other things, the plan said that toolkits might include definitions of what is needed for an application to be “complete” for each agency required to make a permit/review decision; identification of tribal, state and local governments’ roles; and project-specific best management practices and upfront avoidance, minimization and mitigation measures such as project siting information and guidance.

TransmissionHub Senior Editor Carl Dombek contributed to this article.

About Corina Rivera-Linares 3286 Articles
Corina Rivera-Linares was TransmissionHub’s chief editor until August 2021, as well as part of the team that established TransmissionHub in 2011. Before joining TransmissionHub, Corina covered renewable energy and environmental issues, as well as transmission, generation, regulation, legislation and ISO/RTO matters at SNL Financial from 2005 to 2011. She has also covered such topics as health, politics, and education for weekly newspapers and national magazines.