Yesterday the Obama Administration announced selection of 14 infrastructure projects that will be expedited through permitting and environmental review processes.
The decision comes as a result of a Presidential Memorandum issued in late August at the recommendation of President Obama's Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. The memorandum directed agencies to expedite environmental reviews and permit decisions for a selection of high priority infrastructure projects that will create a significant number of jobs, have already identified necessary funding, and where the significant steps remaining before construction are within the control and jurisdiction of the federal government and can be completed within 18 months.
The administration calls this expedited list, "an important next step . . . to improve the efficiency of federal reviews needed to help job-creating infrastructure projects move as quickly as possible from the drawing board to completion." They expect lessons learned in the process to help reform the federal project-review process permanently.
John Mica, Republican chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, calls the step too little, too late.
"While the Administration is pushing these projects forward with current red tape and rules, they just push further back or stall hundreds of other projects pending federal approval," Mica said. "We must expedite the review process for all projects, not just a handful."
Mica suggests that the sluggish project-approval process is why 35% of the infrastructure money in President Obama's 2009 stimulus package is still in the U.S. Treasury.
"'Shovel-ready’ has become a national joke, and the more-than-$787 billion stimulus has failed to deliver the jobs that were promised," Mica said.
In applauding the president's list of priority projects, American Road & Transportation Builders Association President Pete Ruane said, "ARTBA has worked for over a decade to try to remedy the burdensome approval process. To that end, we support the President’s decision and hope his efforts to improve efficiency of federal reviews can be applied to other projects in the future."
The White House press release announcing the 14 expedited projects points out that many review processes are not controlled by the federal government -- that state, local, and tribal governments are partners in approving projects -- but that the administration is committed to making federal approvals as efficient as possible while protecting citizens' health and safety.
"As the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness has highlighted, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of federal permit decisions and environmental reviews is one critical step the federal government can take to accelerate job creation," according to the White House release. "The Administration will apply broadly the information gathered while expediting these projects to further improve the permitting process for all projects."