Trump signs executive order to streamline environmental reviews

Aug. 21, 2017
US President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order aimed at streamlining federal environmental reviews for energy and other infrastructure projects on Aug. 15.

Nick Snow
Washington Editor

US President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order aimed at streamlining federal environmental reviews for energy and other infrastructure projects on Aug. 15. "My executive order requires agencies to work together efficiently by requiring one lead agency for each major infrastructure project. It also holds agencies accountable if they fail to streamline their review process," he said at Trump Tower in New York City where he took the action.

"Each agency is accountable. We're going to get infrastructure built quickly and relatively inexpensively, and the permitting process will go very quickly," Trump declared. "No longer will we tolerate one job-killing delay after another. No longer will we accept a broken system that benefits consultants and lobbyists at the expense of hard-working Americans."

The president spoke largely about restoring highways, bridges, and tunnels, but the order also applies to oil and gas pipelines and to waterways which barges use to transport oil products from refineries to terminals.

The order establishes a 2-year goal for processing infrastructure projects' environmental documents, with a lead federal agency working with other agencies to complete environmental reviews and permitting decisions. Each agency will sign a joint record of decision, and all federal permits will be issued 90 days later.

The order also mandates the entire federal infrastructure permitting and review process and holds every agency responsible, the White House said. Under it, the Council on Environmental Quality will develop and implement an action plan to improve environmental reviews government-wide. It also will mediate disagreements between federal agencies so a decision isn't delayed amid bureaucratic disputes.

The White House Office of Management and Budget will develop a 2-year government-wide modernization goal and ensure federal agencies take meaningful steps to achieve it, according to the order. Agencies will modify their strategic plans to include agency-specific goals for improving environmental reviews and permitting and hold their officials accountable, it said. They also will be held accountable for implementing best practices that are proven to enhance environmental reviews and permitting.

Performance accountability

"OMB will establish a performance accountability system and score each agency on [its] implementation of the executive order," the White House said. "Poor performance will be considered in budget formulation and could result in the imposition of available penalties."

It said the executive order makes clear that environmental protections will be maintained and that the process should focus more on decision-making and good environmental outcomes instead of the bureaucratic process. "It's going to be a quick, streamlined process," said Trump. "If it doesn't meet environmental safeguards, we're not going to approve [the project]. It's that simple."

Major oil and gas projects seeking federal permits already work with a lead agency that coordinates portions of environmental reviews that fall under other agencies' authorities. The outside agencies' record for meeting deadlines is spotty, and bills have been introduced in Congress to establish deadlines and hold them accountable.

American Petroleum Institute Pres. Jack N. Gerard called Trump's executive order an important step in speeding up projects, creating jobs, and improving government efficiencies in delivering the energy that Americans demand. "Ensuring we have a robust energy infrastructure system that protects the environment and keeps pace with growing production and demand is essential to helping American families and businesses have reliable access to affordable energy," he maintained.

In comments that it submitted to the US Department of Commerce in March, API said that significant improvements could be achieved by standardizing permitting processes; improving coordination among federal and state agencies, including deadlines for issuing permits; and using a dispute resolution process to resolve interagency permitting problems.