In one of the first acts of his presidency, Donald Trump signed an Executive Order entitled “Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects”, with a stated goal of streamlining environmental permitting for infrastructure projects.
The order establishes a process by which the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality may be petitioned to designate an infrastructure project as “high priority”. The Chairman may decide whether a given project should be so designate based on the project’s “importance to the general welfare, value to the Nation, environmental benefits, and other factors.” Upon such designation, the Chairman must establish “expedited procedures and deadlines” for completion of all environmental reviews and approvals. All federal agencies must comply with the established deadlines. If the deadlines are not met, the head of the agency must provide a written explanation to the Chairman regarding the cause of the delay and outlining steps to complete review as soon as possible.
The order states that the expedited schedule established by the Chairman must be “consistent with law”, so the extent to which a permitting timeline could be compressed would depend on the underlying statutory and regulatory framework.
The order provides a few hints as to which types of projects might be deemed high priority, including “improving the U.S. electric grid and telecommunications systems and repairing and upgrading critical port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges, and highways.”
Is mass transit infrastructure in?
Notably, mass transit was NOT included in the examples of high priority infrastructure listed in the order. However, a case could certainly be made that such infrastructure meets the criteria for listing, including its many environmental benefits (assuming clean air is to be considered).
Doesn’t CEQ already have that discretion in deciding whether a project requires only an EA versus a full EIS?