Responding to President Obama's call for federal agencies to speed infrastructure development through more efficient environmental reviews, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff today announced they are proposing common-sense changes that would significantly cut red tape for certain transit projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and dramatically speed some projects towards completion.
"The president has asked us to find new ways to make our government work smarter on behalf of the American people by cutting waste and inefficiency wherever we find it," said Secretary LaHood. "The changes we're proposing will allow us to still carefully assess the impact of transit development on the environment, while reducing the time and energy needed to green-light good projects that clearly do not have a significant impact on the environment."
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) anticipates that for certain transit projects, the streamlined NEPA review process would be five times faster, making the NEPA process the most efficient it has been in 20 years. The time-savings would be due, in part, to allowing certain types of transit projects that clearly do not have a significant impact on the local environment — such as projects to be built within an existing right-of-way where transit or other transportation already exists — to potentially undergo a less intensive NEPA evaluation, while still providing for a more thorough review of projects that do have the potential for significant environmental impacts. For qualified projects, less documentation would need to be submitted, and project sponsors and state and regional transportation authorities would be encouraged to take environmental impacts into consideration sooner, as part of the planning process.
"This new NEPA process would help provide transportation solutions to communities more quickly by potentially shaving more than a year off of the environmental review process for some projects," said Rogoff. "The bottom line is that project sponsors would be able to spend less time and effort guiding projects through a maze of paperwork and more time building projects that will provide a real alternative to ever-increasing fuel costs."
The proposed changes would boost transparency of the NEPA process by encouraging the posting of all environmental impact statements and environmental records of decision on a grant applicant's project website — and maintaining that information until a project is constructed and operating.
A Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on "Environmental Impact and Related Procedures" appeared in yesterday's Federal Register. A 60-day public comment period follows.
This is the second effort to cut red tape undertaken by the FTA this year. In January, reflecting an April 2011 Executive Order – Streamlining Service Delivery and Improving Customer Service, by President Obama to streamline service delivery and improve customer service, the FTA announced a proposed rulemaking to streamline the way major transit projects compete for federal funds.