On Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order (EO) on infrastructure
permitting, titled Presidential Executive Order on Establishing Discipline and
Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure.
The EO aims to reduce permitting time, which in the past took an average of seven
years, and will now be condensed into an average of two years, according to the
President’s remarks. The President made the announcement alongside related cabinet
members: Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Department of
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Director of the Office of Management and
Budget Mick Mulvaney.
During his remarks, the President displayed a long flowchart that represented the old
process of approvals of the project, followed by a new, significantly shorter flowchart.
The Order achieves the expedited process in part by having one agency take the lead
on each project’s approval process and by establishing a review process that holds
The 2017 Infrastructure Report Card recommends streamlining permitting as one way to
improve our nation’s infrastructure. ASCE’s Public Policy Statement on the Regulatory
Process for Infrastructure Development similarly aligns with much of what is in the EO,
including a single administrative processing/permitting agency to shorten and improve
the approval process and improve inter-agency collaboration.
However, improving this process cannot alone bring the grade up from its current ‘D+.’
To fully address our infrastructure needs, increased investment is needed to close the
infrastructure gap. ASCE released a statement on the EO, which also notes that at this
time it is unclear if the environment will be effectively safeguarded in the new process.
The EO also repealed President Obama’s Executive Order 13690, the Federal Flood
Risk Management Standard (FFRMS), which requires that any new federally funded
infrastructure projects in a flood plain must first and foremost consider and mitigate
flood disaster risk. It is designed to end the costly and unsustainable cycle of relying on
disaster relief funds to rebuild after flooding events. As advocates for policies that
reduce risk, protect the health of the public, and maximize the public interest – including
cost considerations and resilient designs – ASCE has been supportive of the FFRMS.
This pragmatic approach, which gives federal agencies the flexibility to use one of three
standards for establishing the flood elevation of new infrastructure projects, ensures that
taxpayer dollars are responsibly spent while also safeguarding public health.
In October 2016, ASCE submitted formal comments to the Federal Emergency
Management Agency (FEMA) in response to FEMA’s proposed rule to implement the
FFRMS. In March 2017 and June 2017, ASCE, along with a coalition of organizations,
sent letters to the White House in support of the FFRMS.
While improving the permitting process can benefit our nation, we ultimately need
increased investment into projects that are a benefit to Americans and the economy.
The President remarked he believes there is still bipartisan interest on passing a large
infrastructure package, though the full details of such a bill are yet to be seen.