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Phyllis Harden

Legislative & Special Projects, Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel
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GAO Weighs in on Environmental Streamlining

February 5, 2018

AGC has been involved in efforts to streamline the environmental review and permitting process since the late 1990s to allow transportation and other infrastructure projects to progress to construction quicker. While there have been many successes, the effort continues to today as AGC works with the Trump Administration and the Congress in an effort to remove bottlenecks and eliminate delays. In response to Congressional direction, the General Accountability Office (GAO) released a report this week assessing the use of these provisions and whether they have accelerated project delivery. GAO reports that since 2005, over 30 provisions have been enacted in law to speed up the delivery of highway and transit projects, mainly by streamlining the NEPA review process. These project delivery provisions included new categorical exclusions which allow for a less intense environmental review on certain projects, and a provision allowing US DOT to assign federal NEPA approval authority to states. 

The report paints a generally favorable picture on the use of these provisions with state DOTs reporting that a number of provisions they used sped up delivery of highway projects, the effects on transit projects were less clear. For example, according to GAO’s survey responses, 10 of 17 provisions that mainly created new “categorical exclusions” were used by 30 or more state DOTs and generally sped up projects.

A big focus of the report was on six states —Alaska, California, Florida, Ohio, Texas, and Utah—that have been delegated the authority to administer the NEPA review process. All of these states report time savings by undertaking the review process themselves. California reported that it reduced the NEPA review time 10 years from the 16 years it has taken in the past. California qualifies this result saying it only shows results from, “the relatively small sample of five projects”, but nevertheless presents these data on its web site as evidence of “significant” time savings.” AGC will use these results to demonstrate the benefits of the streamlining initiative.

For more information on related developments, please read this AGC article.  Please contact Leah Pilconis, senior counsel environmental law and policy, at pilconisl@agc.org or (703) 837-5332 with streamlining questions, or Brian Deery, senior director of AGC’s highway and transportation division, at deeryb@agc.org or (703) 837-5319.

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