Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, other cabinet secretaries and federal agency leaders have signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing to follow President Trump’s One Federal Decision framework for processing environmental reviews and permits for major infrastructure projects.
“This MOU will eliminate the potential for conflicting decisions, so that project sponsors don’t get one answer from 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 USDA 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. Those 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.
President 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. Under One Federal Decision, Executive Order 13807 requires that each major infrastructure project have a lead federal agency that is responsible for navigating the project through the process, all federal agencies to 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 2-year goal for the completion of the environmental review and permitting processes for the signature of the Record of Decision and issuance of the necessary permits.
Who signed the MOU?
In signing the MOU, Perdue joined Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Housing and 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 including the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the 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 and Budget, and Mary Neumayr, the Acting Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.
What’s the process?
Under the MOU, the agencies commit 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.
- Commitment to meeting the lead federal agency’s permitting timetable.
- Commitment to conduct the necessary review processes concurrently.
- Automatic elevation of interagency disputes.