It looks as though Massachusetts is going to at least try to avoid having lengthy environmental reviews create obstacles to spending its share of the federal stimulus package. A draft report prepared by the Commonwealth’s Permitting Task Force makes several recommendations which, if implemented, would indeed help to ensure that the money can get out the door and the shovels in the ground. Highlights include:
- Allowing projects to proceed, at their own risk, during permit appeals.
- Providing that appeals related to any stimulus projects would be heard in the permit session of the Land Court.
- Exempting stimulus projects from federal review. This echoes a suggestion previously made by Governor Schwarzenegger and by at least one Republican Senator. The Senate has already rejected it. As described in the Task Force report, the exemption would be limited to projects where the only basis for federal review is federal funding. There would be no general exemption from federal permitting requirements. Unlike Governor Schwarzenegger, the Task Force is not recommending that MEPA, the state environmental review statute, be waived for stimulus projects.
- Efforts to bring the Massachusetts Historic Commission to the table – MHC declined to participate in the Permitting Task Force
- Creation of permits by rule for certain types of projects in order to avoid delays resulting from individual permit applications/reviews
Time will tell whether the Commonwealth adopts any or all of these recommendations. This is only a draft report at this point. Time will also tell regarding the stimulus effort itself and efforts in Congress to smooth out the environmental review process.
In any case, these common-sense recommendations could only help.