Building Infrastructure Fast and Smart

klsa12 via FreeImages

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 built on five key elements:

  • Early cross-agency coordination
  • Clear timelines and tracking
  • Early and meaningful outreach
  • Improved agency responsiveness and technical assistance
  • Positive community outcomes

What’s needed?

Last November, Congress passed a landmark infrastructure bill.  It provides a once-in-a-generation opportunity to address overdue improvements to the nation’s energy, water, sewer and other infrastructure.  It can create jobs, transition the nation to cleaner energy sources and promote thriving communities.   

Our nation’s laws include various permitting requirements to ensure that infrastructure decisions are informed by the communities affected by them.  Everyone agrees that permits and the protections that come with them are important.  Urgent infrastructure needs demand permitting that is efficient as well as effective. 

What’s new?

With his Permitting Action Plan, President Biden commits to getting infrastructure built on time, on task and on budget.  An interagency Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (FPICS) will improve coordination among agencies and resolve issues consistent with climate, economic and equity goals.

  • Deadlines for Action – Sector-specific teams have 60 days to provide the Permitting Council a charter identifying actions to promote the effectiveness and timeliness of permitting.  The 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 assistance - Agencies will identify, share, or develop resources, trainings, and tools to assist project sponsors, permit applicants, affected communities, Tribal communities, and other stakeholders.  The plan recognizes that engaging the public and completing environmental reviews quickly requires staff and resources.  Many agencies like the Bureau of Land Management lost staff with the necessary expertise over the past several years needed to conduct effective environmental reviews.  Local communities – as well as state, local and tribal governments – need financial support to engage in project development in a prompt and meaningful manner.  Tribal Historic Preservation Officers need resources to ensure that projects such as wind farms, pipelines or transmission lines, are built in a way that protects historic and cultural resources.  Infrastructure money should fund such capacity as well as concrete.

Where do we go from here?

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



About the Authors

Sharon Buccino

Senior Attorney, Lands Division, Nature Program

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