On January 24, 2017, President Trump issued an Executive Order and a Presidential Memorandum aimed at streamlining environmental reviews and permitting for infrastructure projects and domestic manufacturing. These actions echo efforts in prior administrations to achieve similar goals, and if aggressively implemented have the potential to significantly reduce lead times and increase certainty for large-scale infrastructure projects and manufacturers seeking federal approvals.
The Executive Order, titled "Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects," intends to "streamline and expedite … environmental reviews and approvals" for infrastructure projects. Specifically, it allows the head of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to determine that an infrastructure project is "high priority," at the request of a State or agency or upon CEQ's own initiative. That determination is based upon the "project's importance to the general welfare, value to the Nation, environmental benefits" and any other factors that CEQ considers relevant. Once a project is deemed high priority, CEQ must coordinate "expedited procedures and deadlines for completion of environmental reviews and approvals" for high priority projects.
The Presidential Memorandum, titled "Streamlining Permitting and Reducing Regulation Burdens for Domestic Manufacturing," directs the Secretary of Commerce to solicit comments from stakeholders within 60 days concerning the impact of federal regulations on domestic manufacturing and the means for reducing the regulatory burden on domestic manufacturers. Another 60 days after receiving comments, the Secretary of Commerce must develop a "plan to streamline federal permitting processes for domestic manufacturing and to reduce regulatory burdens affecting domestic manufacturers."
It is not yet clear how these two actions will intersect with existing streamlining initiatives or what further actions the Trump administration might take on preexisting Executive Orders and the like. It is fair to assume that the overall direction will continue existing efforts to simplify regulatory processes and reduce burdens on project proponents looking to build in the United States. Some of these concepts may also find their way into new regulations or guidance by CEQ or individual agencies whenever the current regulatory freeze is lifted. For now, particularly for large or complex projects, companies and state and local agencies should proactively approach relevant federal agencies to secure commitments to workable approaches and deadlines for their projects.