Infrastructure Permitting Reforms to Meet the Twin Goals of Achieving More Timely Reviews While Improving Environmental Outcomes
David J. Hayes, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior
From early in his Administration, President Obama has committed to making the federal government smarter, more efficient, and more responsive to the American people. As part of that effort, the President last year directed his administration to streamline and strengthen the permitting of infrastructure projects needed to rebuild America. Today we see a major milestone in that effort, with a new report that highlights the successes of the effort to date, and a Presidential Memorandum that points the way forward to greater federal coordination, improved processes for industry, and better outcomes for communities and the environment.
As the largest landowner in the United States, the Department of the Interior has played a critical role in facilitating the infrastructure investments needed for a 21st Century American economy. In particular, Interior is reshaping our energy future. While we continue to engage in responsible leasing of public lands for conventional oil and gas development, we also have opened up our public lands for major new renewable energy projects.
By coordinating upfront with partner agencies and stakeholders, utilizing landscape-scale planning practices, and deploying agency resources to priority projects, the largest solar energy projects in the world are now under construction on Interior lands in the southwest.
The results of our permitting reforms have been remarkable. Although we began from a standing start (there had been no large solar facilities permitted in the prior Administration), Interior has moved forward and completed the permitting of 20 utility-scale solar projects, with more on the way. In addition, our Department has completed the permitting process for an additional 8 wind farms, 9 geothermal plants, and hundreds of miles of new transmission facilities over our public lands. When built, these projects will provide more than 11,500 megawatts of power, or enough electricity to power more than 3.8 million homes, and support an estimated 13,500 construction and operations jobs.
The principles of good government that have fueled our work in renewables are the same that have informed the work of the Administration under Executive Order 13604 for the past year. That effort has likewise generated remarkable results. Projects identified and tracked under the E.O. have experienced time savings of several months to several years. Of the twelve projects led by the Interior Department – including solar and wind projects, transmission lines, pipelines, and water resources projects – four have already been completed, and six more are slated to be finished within a year. This represents significant time savings for each project due.
Importantly, the best practices that helped us achieve these results are now being institutionalized through agency guidance and interagency agreements. And by signing the Presidential Memorandum today, the President has ensured a continued focus on these important matters. Under the President’s direction, we will be fully engaged in the months ahead in an interagency effort to identify and reform regulations that will improve permitting processes and produce better environmental results. We also will be taking additional steps to improve interagency coordination, engage more effectively with stakeholders, strategically use IT tools, explore solutions to resources constraints, and develop systems to take better advantage of landscape-scale mitigation opportunities. By going further down this road, the President is ensuring that the successes of the past four years continue into the future and apply to all that we do. By leveraging our experience and expertise, Interior is continuing to lead the way in this effort.