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Federal Efforts Seek to Streamline NEPA Environmental Reviews for Major Infrastructure Projects

The Trump Administration continues to prioritize guidance-driven revisions to federal regulatory programs to reduce the impact of administrative review and permitting on development. Last week’s highly-anticipated memorandum of understanding (MOU) released by the White House purporting to streamline the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review process for “major infrastructure projects” could be a step toward a more efficient environmental permitting process. However, the impact may be limited.

The length and inefficiency of some environmental reviews under the NEPA has long been a point of frustration for industry and environmental practitioners alike. The NEPA seeks to ensure that federal agencies thoroughly consider the potential environmental impacts of proposed actions (requiring preparation of time-consuming environmental reports) before proceeding with development. State, local, and tribal agencies are sometimes required to help conduct environmental reviews under the NEPA when projects involve specialized expertise but also “major federal action,” such as a federal permit approval or federal funding.

The MOU – signed by 12 federal agencies – builds upon Executive Order 13807 and a separate action list issued by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Both documents focused on reforming the NEPA to promote speedy infrastructure development. In particular, the August executive order established the “One Federal Decision” policy, which provided that major infrastructure projects should have a single lead federal agency, a single record of decision (ROD), and that all authorizations for construction of major infrastructure projects should be completed within 90 days. The executive order defines “major” projects as those “for which multiple authorizations by federal agencies will be required to proceed with construction.”

The MOU further clarified these goals by setting a two-year target time frame for completing the environmental permitting process and directed agencies to work together to review and make decisions concurrently. The MOU listed several other general directives to the agencies, such as providing “predictable, transparent, and timely” reviews, establishing “standard operating procedures” for reviews, and eliminating “duplication of effort” among agencies.

In order to make the Trump Administration’s plan to speed up permitting enforceable and effective, the MOU must be followed up by agency regulations that incorporate deadlines, specific requirements, and additional resources to ensure that permit applications move faster and still comply with relevant laws.

© 2018 Schiff Hardin LLP

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About this Author

Amy Antoniolli, environmental attorney, Schiff Hardin, permit appeals legal counsel, environment regulations lawyer, Illinois Pollution Control law
Staff Attorney

Amy Antoniolli concentrates her practice on environmental matters, advising clients on compliance with relevant laws and regulations and representing them in permit appeals, requests for relief from regulations and in rulemakings.

Amy’s prior experience as Assistant Attorney for the Illinois Pollution Control Board and as Assistant Counsel to the Illinois House of Representatives informs her work at Schiff Hardin and regularly benefits her clients.

Having advised the Board Members of the Illinois Pollution Control Board...

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Caitlin M Ajax, Schiff Hardin, Chicago, Illinois, environmental law, energy law, human rights, Washington DC, regulatory developments
Associate

Caitlin practices in multiple areas, but has a particular interest in environmental and energy law matters. She has experience drafting briefs, memoranda, and case pleadings, as well as managing discovery and other aspects of trial preparation. She makes it a priority to learn clients’ business goals and then track regulatory developments and industry trends to better serve their needs.

Prior to law school, Caitlin managed communications at a human rights organization in Washington, D.C.

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