Infrastructure Projects Executive Order
By David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of the Interior
President Obama has committed his Administration to make the federal government function better, smarter and more efficiently, achieving better outcomes for communities and the environment. One of the most important areas targeted by the President involves the permitting of large infrastructure projects, including utility-scale wind, solar and geothermal energy facilities; electricity transmission lines; pipelines; as well as hydropower and waterway projects. These projects create needed jobs while also addressing our nation’s energy and water needs.
The Department of the Interior plays a crucial role in reviewing and permitting many of these large infrastructure projects, given our role as the largest landowner in the United States, and our statutory responsibility to address wildlife impacts and other environmental issues associated with large projects. Under Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar’s leadership, our Department has implemented groundbreaking reforms and process innovations to ensure that major infrastructure projects on our public lands and/or affecting our trust resources move forward in an efficient manner. Rather than having project proponents address one issue at a time, moving from one agency approval to the next, and stringing out an already-difficult permitting process, we have required that all relevant permitting agencies, key stakeholders, and the project proponent come to the table early and put their plans and concerns on the table. They are then addressed together, in one coordinated permitting process, providing more certainty to project applicants and better and more timely permitting results.
Our reforms have already produced remarkable results. Since 2009, the Interior Department has permitted an unprecedented number of large, utility-scale solar, wind and geothermal power plants and related transmission lines on our public lands. In the past three years, under Secretary Salazar’s leadership, our Department approved more utility-scale renewable energy projects on public lands than in the past two decades combined–a total of 34 new projects. When constructed, these projects are expected to provide more than three times the amount of power generated by all previous renewable energy projects on DOI-managed lands combined (10,400 MW) – enough to power approximately 3.4 million American homes. And they will create approximately 14,000 new construction, operation and maintenance jobs.
This success is due in no small part to our innovative models for internal review of permit applications, cooperation and coordination with other federal agencies, effective partnerships with states, early and on-going engagement with project proponents and stakeholders, and innovative tools for siting and permitting projects to minimize conflicts and improve outcomes for communities and the environment.
Today, the Interior Department joined fellow Executive Agencies in a workshop to discuss our continued efforts to build on these successes through President Obama’s Executive Order 13604, Improving Performance of Federal Permitting and Review of Infrastructure Projects (EO 13604), and the Federal Plan for Modernizing the Federal Permitting and Review Process for Better Projects, Improved Environmental and Community Outcomes, and Quicker Decisions.
Interior continues to implement internal process innovations to facilitate the review of complex infrastructure projects; strategies for improved coordination with other Federal, state, tribal and local partners; tools for early and regular communication with project proponents and stakeholders; and mechanisms to bring greater transparency and accountability to our Department’s permitting decisions.
Important among these process improvements is an innovative approach to mitigation for large infrastructure projects. The Interior Department is taking steps to coordinate early with project sponsors to scope out mitigation needs and opportunities early in the permitting process, and on a whole-of-project (rather than a piece-meal) basis. This will enable project proponents to work closely with lead agencies like Interior and identify mitigation opportunities early in the process, using a broader, landscape-level lens that considers creative conservation “banking” alternatives and other strategies that will provide a bigger conservation return for mitigation dollars.
With this and other process innovations, we will continue to do our part to further President Obama’s strategy for making the permitting of infrastructure projects smarter and better for communities and the environment, while growing our nation’s energy independence, driving job creation and powering economies across the country.