The plan, released 12 February, gives the Secretary of the Interior more approval power and outlines timeframes for approvals by agencies.
The plan would significantly reduce the amount of environmental regulations for new projects and affect pipeline approvals across the US, including in places where new oil and gas infrastructure faces severe opposition. It also gives power to the Secretary of the Interior to approve pipelines that cross national parks. Currently, congress has to approve projects that cross public land; the plan cites increased certainty as the reason for the new power. This move comes after the administration opened up federal land to increase oil and gas drilling.
Much in the plan mirrors Canada’s recent pipeline approval reform, which was introduced last week and included a ‘one project, one approval’ policy. The President’s plan outlines a ‘one agency, one decision’ environmental review process to cut down on the number of agencies involved in reviews and speed up approval.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the law that currently determines how environmental reviews are conducted, only encourages federal agencies to coordinate assessments to avoid duplication of work. The new plan would require them to do so and comes as part of the President’s effort to speed up infrastructure development, especially to exploit fossil fuel resources.
The proposal also establishes a twenty one month time limit for agencies to complete their reviews. This is compared to Canada’s 600 day, or twenty month limit. Following this, agencies would have 3 months to approve applications. Canada’s proposed approval limit is 90 days.
‘[A]ppropriate enforcement mechanisms’ would be used to enforce deadlines under the plan.
NEPA requires that alternatives to proposed infrastructure be explored and even if the infrastructure is needed. Instead, in the new plan agencies would not be required “to consider alternatives that are outside its authority or outside the capability of the applicant”.
Regulations under the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act as well as NEPA would also be streamlined, which the administration says is another way to reduce duplication of rules.
In a ‘factsheet’ outlining the rationale for the plan, the Trump administration emphasised the role of local and state authorities in future infrastructure projects, rather than federal involvement. The private sector will also have an increased role, the White House citing its ‘better procurement methods, market discipline, and a long-term focus on maintaining assets.’ According to the document President Trump is aiming for $1 trillion dollars (€809 million) in infrastructure investment. Trump’s budget (also published on 12 February) includes $200 billion (€161.8 billion) in infrastructure spending.