Law 360 reports that Brenda Mallory, the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, was in the Senate yesterday telling members of the Committee on Environment and Public Works about the Biden Administration's new "Permitting Action Plan".
I've read the plan and I agree with Chair Mallory that it is about "strengthen[ing] and accelerat[ing]" federal permitting but I would say the emphasis is on strengthening.
What the plan doesn't include is proposals for statutory or regulatory changes that would streamline permitting and limit litigation over permits once they are finally obtained. The plan does promise timelines for permitting once a Permitting Council is established, and it agrees on its charter, and subsequent guidance is issued by OMB and the CEQ. That's going to take months, at least, and such timelines for permitting have been established in past administrations, but not effectively because they're not enforceable.
So Members of Congress who are concerned about whether the infrastructure dollars they authorized actually result in infrastructure projects sooner rather than later have good reason to continue to be concerned. So do the rest of us. Of course Congress could do something about this other than complain about what the Executive Branch is and isn't doing.
"First, we will set clear timelines for projects to get reviewed and permitted," Mallory told the senators. "Second, we will use public dashboards so that everyone can track where projects stand in the process, including nearby communities. Third, we will hire more staff in the offices that are doing the hard work of permitting and reviewing." And lastly, she said, federal agencies will put more emphasis on the early project design process, analysis and public input in order to avoid things outside that process that can slow down projects, such as lawsuits and other conflicts.