Feds move to accelerate permitting for transportation projects

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The Obama administration is moving to accelerate the pace of permitting for federal transportation projects as Congress faces a deadline for extending the nation's infrastructure spending. 

The law that authorizes federal transportation funding is currently set to expire on Oct. 29. 

The White House Office of Management and Budget, Council on Environmental Quality, Department of Transportation and Army Corps of Engineers said Tuesday that they are moving to boost the speed of permitting and environmental reviews for projects that are already on the books as they work to convince Congress to approve a new round of infrastructure spending. 

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“To deliver infrastructure projects that achieve real impacts for the American people, we need to act with urgency and recognize that every day counts,” Transportation Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony FoxxTransportation Dept. launches aviation test lab with NASA Overnight Regulation: Drones ready to take flight under new rules White House paves the way for commercial drone use MORE said in a statement. “Today's actions help us get there. We are pushing ourselves to improve efficiency, coordination, and collaboration, so that federal permitting becomes a sprint rather than a relay race."

“Our nation’s economy thrives when the foundation of America’s communities — from roads and bridges to ports and waterways — are built to meet the needs and requirements of the 21st Century,” White House Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun DonovanShaun DonovanOvernight Healthcare: New momentum to lift ban on gay men donating blood White House makes last-ditch plea for opioid funding Overnight Energy: Coal industry group backs Trump MORE added. “Today’s actions reflect this Administration’s continued commitment to meet those needs by further improving the efficiency of the Federal permitting process in an environmentally sound way and accelerating U.S. economic growth and competitiveness.”

Lawmakers are facing an Oct. 29 deadline for renewing the law that allows infrastructure spending, but the Transportation Department said recently that it has enough money to cover payments to states for transportation projects until June 2016

Congress been struggling to come up with a way to pay for a long-term extension of the measure after passing a patch in July that lasts only three months. 

The national gas tax has been the traditional source of transportation funding since its inception in the 1930s. The tax has not been increased since 1993, however, and improvements in auto fuel efficiency have sapped its purchasing power. 

The federal government typically spends about $50 billion per year on transportation projects, but the gas tax only brings in approximately $34 billion annually at its current rate. Lawmakers have turned to other areas of the federal budget in recent years to close the $16 billion per year gap, but transportation advocates have said the resulting temporary funding measures are preventing states from completing large construction projects. 

Critics of federal transportation spending have complained for years about the amount of time it takes to review environmental concerns on major infrastructure projects before construction can begin. 

Republicans note that the last multiyear transportation funding bill that was approved in 2012 included provisions that called for concurrent permit and environmental reviews to similarly accelerate transportation projects. 

White House Council on Environmental Quality managing director Christy Goldfuss said the Obama administration is doing all it can to speed up the process while maintaining its commitment to protecting the environment. 

“This administration has worked hard to improve the efficiency of the environmental review processes to ensure Federal permitting decisions and environmental reviews are timely and responsive,” Goldfuss said. “Today’s announcements reflect the Administration’s commitment to conducting the hard work necessary to harmonize economic growth, infrastructure development, and environmental protections.”