near a roadway on a farm in Navasota, Texas Bob Nichols

MOU to eliminate confusion over infrastructure decision

One Federal Decision framework assists in processing environmental reviews and permits for major infrastructure projects across agencies.

Trump Administration Cabinet secretaries, including Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Monday with leaders of other federal agencies committing to following the President’s One Federal Decision framework for processing environmental reviews and permits for major infrastructure projects. Under the direction of President Donald Trump, One Federal Decision will drive infrastructure projects to meet environmental standards but complete the review and permitting process in a reasonable amount of time.

“This MOU will eliminate the potential for conflicting decisions so that project sponsors don’t get one answer from one agency and another answer from another agency. In agriculture, we’ve gotten some of those mixed signals before, and they’re very frustrating,” Perdue said. “President Trump is making good on his promise to free our economy from needless regulations and bureaucratic delays, and One Federal Decision is another example.”

Many of the major projects the U.S. Department of Agriculture is involved in can be very complex and require input and decisions from many other federal agencies. Projects like the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley pipelines, which require extensive research and inter-agency coordination, are challenging under the old system. The challenges force agencies to wait extended periods for multiple redundant reviews before making decisions, which, in some cases, are unrelated to the information being gathered, causing costly project delays, confusion about who is responsible for making decisions and conflicting outcomes from multiple agency decisions.

Trump established the policy of One Federal Decision for the federal government’s processing of environmental reviews and permits for major infrastructure projects in Executive Order 13807. The order requires that each major infrastructure project have a lead federal agency that is responsible for navigating the project through the process, all federal agencies must sign one “Record of Decision” (for purposes of complying with the National Environmental Policy Act) and relevant federal agencies to issue the necessary permits for the project within 90 days of the signing of the Record of Decision. Executive Order 13807 established a two-year goal for the completion of environmental review and permitting processes for the signature of the Record of Decision and issuance of the necessary permits.

In signing the MOU, Perdue joined Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Housing & Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Secretary of the Army Mark Esper.

Additional signatories to the MOU include the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and acting executive director of the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council. These officials signed the MOU pursuant to a joint memorandum issued by Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management & Budget, and Mary Neumayr, acting chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.

Under the MOU, the agencies are committing to working together to make the necessary environmental and permitting decisions for major infrastructure projects with a goal to complete the entire process within two years. In general, the MOU commits agencies to processing their reviews in accordance with the following four principles:

  • Establish a lead federal agency for the complete process. Under the current process, project sponsors are responsible for navigating the decision-making processes of multiple federal agencies. Under the MOU, federal agencies agree to establish one lead federal agency that will navigate the federal environmental review and permitting process.
  • Commitment to meeting the lead federal agency’s permitting time table. Under the current process, agencies are not generally required to follow a comprehensive permitting time table. Under the MOU, federal agencies agree to follow the permitting time tables established by the lead federal agency, with the goal of completing the process within two years.
  • Commitment to conduct the necessary review processes concurrently. Under the current process, agencies may conduct their own environmental review and permitting processes sequentially, resulting in unnecessary delays, redundant analyses and revisiting of decisions. Under the MOU, federal agencies agree to conduct their processes at the same time and rely on the analysis prepared by the lead federal agency to the maximum extent possible.
  • Automatic elevation of inter-agency disputes. Under the current process, inter-agency disputes sometimes linger for years in agency field offices before being elevated and resolved. Under the MOU, federal agencies agree that inter-agency disputes will be automatically elevated and expeditiously resolved.
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