AGC commented this week on three separate Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regulatory proposals to expedite project delivery by streamlining the federal environmental review process. The FHWA proposals implement various AGC supported provisions in the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act), intended to make the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) procedures work better. In one proposal, AGC supported the state of Arizona taking responsibility for undertaking part of the NEPA review process and in so doing eliminating federal review. Eight states have or are seeking assignment of this review authority and AGC’s comments pointed out that FHWA and these states report significant reduction in the time it takes to complete the NEPA process. FHWA’s report indicates that states that have undertaken this responsibility have, “a greater awareness, understanding, and opportunity for improving environmental outcomes.”
A second FHWA proposal takes this NEPA assignment one step further by allowing states to substitute their own environmental laws and procedures for the federal process as long as the state procedures are “at least as stringent” as the Federal rules. AGC’s comments said that this is the next logical step in delegating authority to states for the NEPA process and urged that these regulatory changes be adopted quickly. AGC’s comments offered suggestions on how the federal government should judge whether state laws are as “stringent” as the federal law.
AGC also supported a third FHWA proposal (made jointly with the Federal Transit Administration and Federal Railroad Administration) that makes revisions in the NEPA process itself and in historic preservation requirements. Many of the proposed changes will allow all of the US DOT agencies to use similar criteria in judging which construction projects need to go through an extensive environmental review or whether they can be assessed under less cumbersome procedures (called categorical exclusions). Under the historical preservation revisions, certain steel and concrete bridges as well as historic rail and transit lines would be exempt from cumbersome review requirements.