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Permitting Reform

Permitting ReformThe US is unusual in how long it takes for federal agencies, state and local governments, private companies, and public/private partnerships to get permits to build infrastructure and energy projects. Much of the delay comes from the unique way that the US approaches the review of a project’s environmental impacts. While permitting in other developed countries with environmental standards as high or higher than those in the US typically takes about two years, in the US it often takes five years and can take ten years or more. The longer processes add significantly to the cost of these projects. One analysis found that a six-year delay in permitting doubles the cost of a project.

Various proposals would build on bipartisan measures in recent years to streamline the process without lowering environmental standards. In other words, whether the project is approved or rejected because of its environmental impacts, these proposals are designed to ensure that the decision is made more quickly. Specific proposals include:

  • Require and Fund Accelerated Review Processes—Provide increased funding for the many federal and state agencies involved in permitting to coordinate and accelerate their review processes without compromising the thoroughness of the review
  • Greater Enforcement of Deadlines—Develop and implement means of enforcing deadlines that currently exist for agencies to complete various stages of the review process to move away from the current practice of virtually no consequences
  • Regional Environmental Assessments—Identify larger geographic areas with lower environmental sensitivity through scientific assessments. These reviews would be done in advance of any particular proposal, for example to build a wind or solar project, so that approval of the projects can be accelerated
Congressional Rank: 4th
(5.1 Average Rank across participating congressional offices)

Achievability Note

Because they reduce the inefficiencies of federal regulations, these proposals have long attracted Republican support. Support among Democrats and environmentalists has been increasing recently because the permitting delays significantly slow many green initiatives, including clean energy and public transit projects. Many argue that the US cannot meet its climate change goals without additional measures to speed up the permitting process while maintaining high environmental standards. In the last few years, permitting reform has taken on greater urgency because legislation like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act provided historic levels of new funding for infrastructure and green energy projects.