On September 22, 2015, President Obama’s Administration announced concurrent actions intended to help achieve certain goals established in the Administration’s 2014 comprehensive plan to modernize infrastructure permitting. Those actions include an enhanced Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard (“Dashboard”), new guidance establishing metrics for the permitting and review of infrastructure projects, and the first update since 1988 of the Synchronizing Environmental Reviews for Transportation and Other Infrastructure Projects handbook (“Red Book”).
With regard to the enhanced Dashboard, the White House Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality issued a memorandum to the heads of eleven federal departments and agencies establishing new guidelines for agencies to begin using the Dashboard – a tool for publicly tracking agency progress on completing federal permitting and environmental review processes – for proposed infrastructure projects starting in October 2015. These new guidelines will apply to several types of energy infrastructure projects, including electricity transmission, renewable energy generation, and pipelines (except for pipelines regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).
Federal agencies will use the Dashboard to report a common set of timeframe metrics for all infrastructure projects seeking federal funding, permits, notices of decision, rights-of-way, and similar actions that meet certain threshold criteria. The metrics to be reported include target and actual dates of receiving an application, permit issuances or approvals, the release of Environmental Impact Statements for review and comments, and the release of agency final decisions. According to the memorandum, the Dashboard will make it easier to identify and troubleshoot roadblocks by providing a common interagency platform to share information about project schedules, milestones, and external factors that stall project progress.
Concurrently, a consortium of six federal agencies, led by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, released a rare update to the Red Book. The newly updated Red Book provides practical, real-world guidance to federal agencies, applicants, project sponsors, and consultants on how to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of key permits and reviews required for infrastructure projects.
In a related press release, President Obama’s Administration stated that the announced actions will ultimately “enable the government to better carry out its mission of ensuring safety and security and protecting environmental and community resources when working with state, local and tribal governments and private partners to scale the Nation’s infrastructure projects.”