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Eno Transportation Weekly

Senate Committee Gets Update on “FAST-41” Project Delivery Acceleration

May 10, 2019

Alex Herrgott held court in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on May 2 to update the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on the progress of the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council (of which he was appointed Executive Director on September 21, 2018). Alongside Herrgott (pronounced “her-got” not “ergo” as clarified extensively by Senator Carper) witnesses at the hearing on the Oversight of Federal Infrastructure Permitting and FAST-41 also included:

  • Laura Abram – Director, Project Execution and Public Affairs at First Solar
  • Michael Knisley – Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council
  • Joseph M. Johnson – Executive Director of the Federal Regulatory Process Review and Analysis at Environment, Technology, and Regulatory Affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce
  • Raul Garcia – Senior Legislative Counsel, Policy and Legislation Department at Earthjustice

“FAST-41” was title 41 of the FAST Act of 2015 (Public Law 114-94), “Federal Permitting Improvement,” and among other things, it created the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council. Title 41 was unusual in that it was not drafted by any of the transportation policy or funding committees in Congress but was instead taken almost word-for-word from a bill (S. 280, 114th Congress) drafted by Senators Rob Portman (R-OH) and Claire McCaskill (D-MO), neither of whom were key players in transportation. But as an intergovernmental exercise, the bill was within the jurisdiction of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Senator Portman is now chairman of their investigatory subcommittee, hence last week’s hearing.

Herrgott came armed with documents – in addition to his written testimony, he had a set of newly developed “best practices” for environmental reviews of infrastructure projects, the Council’s annual report to Congress for fiscal year 2018, a nice two-page fact sheet explaining FAST-41, an updated (and colorful) copy of the flowchart of federal permitting requirements that is meant to be about six feet tall when printed out, and a PDF of the updated permitting dashboard.

Most of the hearing reiterated points stressed at the round table on FAST-41 convened nearly one year ago on the potential for the project delivery streamlining methods to bolster resiliency, improve access and efficiency, support the national economy, and increase transparency and accountability. Throughout the hearing, subcommittee Rob Portman and ranking minority member Tom Carper (D-DE) agreed with Herrgott, Abram, Knisley, and Johnson on the importance of removing the seven-year sunset on title 41 of the FAST Act to encourage further utilization of the relatively nascent Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council.

Garcia suggested that some elements of FAST-41 had merits, while other elements reduced opportunity for public input, especially from effected populations of color and low-income households. He recommended further study of the impacts of title 41 before altering the 2022 sunset and examining which specific elements of the program most support goals of NEPA.

Improved interagency coordination and reduced permitting timelines as facilitated by FAST-41 can help improve efficiency in the environmental permitting process. This acceleration of project of regional and national importance helps bolster jobs in construction as well as access and mobility that supports the national economy. A surface transportation reauthorization can help facilitate project eligibility and adjust the sunset and budge of the Council to maximize the benefits from FAST-41, though an examination of the processes so far could provide a basis for potential adjustments or monitoring to ensure equity and public transparency and accountability.

 

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