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AASHTO Journal

Hearing Seeks Extension of FAST-41 Project Permitting Reforms

A recent roundtable hearing on Capitol Hill focused on efforts to streamline federal infrastructure permitting process also served as a forum to introduce legislation that would ensure the permanence of currently-enacted reforms.

"The federal infrastructure permitting process is incredibly long. It's complicated, arcane, and bureaucratic. And the delays in the process have real costs: in time, money, jobs, and safety," noted Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in his prepared remarks at the June 27 hearing. "It's a topic that does not get a lot of day-to-day attention in the press, but it affects all of our daily lives including roads, bridges, electricity, and environmental restoration."

Portman, who chairs the roundtable with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., noted during the hearing that he hopes to make reforms undertaken via the Federal Permitting Improvement Act of 2015 – enacted as Title 41 or "FAST-41" as it was part of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation or "FAST" Act passed two and half years ago – permanent via a new bill, S.3017, introduced June 6.

070618dome.jpgFormally entitled the Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act, the bill would remove the seven-year sunset on FAST-41, he said.

"It also would allow more projects to apply to be covered, and it would set a two-year goal for each project's permitting process," Portman added. "If agencies realize they will need longer to permit a project, they can explain why and what they will do to mitigate delays.

Joseph Johnson, executive director of environment, technology, and regulatory affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, was one of several participants at the hearing who endorsed a continuation of permit-streamlining efforts.

He said Chamber members are supportive of FAST-41 "thus far," with the "transparency" generated by the permit timetable, as implemented according to the best practices guidance under FAST-41, a major benefit.

"Knowing an expected schedule for various steps in the permitting process at the beginning is a significant step forward that pays off over the entire life of the project by allowing project sponsors to better coordinate and manage scheduling of contractors, suppliers, and resource needs," Johnson explained in his written testimony.

"Our members who work on covered projects are better able to manage resources, reduce down time and waste, and ultimately, manage workflows better to get more done, hire more employees, and help grow the economy," he added. "These are not results that we can easily summarize and boil down to a couple simple metrics, but ultimately they are what matters and the reason why the Chamber and the business community so strongly support permit streamlining."

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