Congress Approves AFS Supported Infrastructure Package
December 4, 2015
The U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate voted to overwhelmingly pass a $305 billion five-year highway, transit and rail bill. The bill, Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST Act), H.R. 22, sets federal policy and funding levels for highways, transit, passenger rail and bridge programs through 2020. It also contains provisions to streamline the environmental review and permitting process and reauthorizes the Export-Import Bank until 2019. In addition, the package includes a provision that strikes the prohibition that bars municipalities from using tax exempt bonds toward Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act projects intended for large drinking water, wastewater and water reuse systems.
AFS has supported the permit streamlining legislation for the last five years. The provisions included in H.R. 22 will bring greater efficiency, transparency, and accountability to the federal permitting review process and covers infrastructure, energy, and aviation, broadband and manufacturing projects.
Specifically it will:
- Establish a permitting timetable, including intermediate and final completion dates for covered projects, i.e. those over $200 million or subject to federal permitting review requirements so they will benefit from enhanced coordination;
- Designate a Lead Agency to coordinate responsibilities among multiple agencies involved in project reviews to ensure that “the trains run on time;”
- Provide for concurrent reviews by agencies, rather than sequential reviews;
- Allow state-level environmental reviews to be used where the state has done a competent job, thereby avoiding needless duplication of state work by federal reviewers;
- Require that agencies involve themselves in the process early and comment early, avoiding eleventh-hour objections that can restart the entire review timetable;
- Establish a reasonable process for determining the scope of project alternatives, so that the environmental review does not devolve into an endless quest to evaluate infeasible alternatives;
- Create a searchable, online “dashboard” to track the status of projects during the environmental review and permitting process;
- Reduce the statute of limitations to challenge a project review from six years to two years; and
- Require courts, when addressing requests for injunctions to stop covered projects, to consider the potential negative impacts on job creation if the injunction is granted.
The multiyear transportation bill is paid for with gas tax revenue and a package of $70 billion in offsets from other areas of the federal budget. The final measure is now headed to the White House where the president is expected to sign it.