September 28, 2015

U.S. House Passes MSCI-Supported RAPID Act

Last Friday on a 233 to 170 vote, the U.S. House passed H.R. 348, the Responsibly And Professionally Invigorating Development (RAPID) Act of 2015, which would streamline the federal permitting process for infrastructure and energy projects. 

The Senate passed similar legislation, S. 280, the Federal Permitting Improvement Act of 2015, over the summer as part of its highway reauthorization bill. MSCI’s partners at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are hopeful that members of the House and Senate will meet soon to negotiate the differences between the two pieces of legislation and produce a final bill that Congress can pass and President Barack Obama can sign. 

As a reminder, this past March with the U.S. Chamber and a large coalition of groups and businesses, MSCI sent a letter to members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee supporting H.R. 348. That letter noted the RAPID Act “embodies the procedural improvements to ‘cut red tape’ as called for by the Obama Administration, including, most recently, in his January 28, 2014, State of the Union Address. In its fiscal year 2016 budget, the administration stated that ‘[t]o further accelerate economic growth and improve the competitiveness of the American economy, the Administration is taking action to modernize and improve the efficiency of the Federal permitting process for major infrastructure projects.’” 

The RAPID Act would:

  • Increase cooperation among federal agencies during the permitting process and would set deadlines for the review of project permit applications;
  • Provide for concurrent reviews by agencies, rather than serial reviews;
  • Allow state-level environmental reviews to be used where the state has done a competent job, thereby avoiding needless duplication of state work by federal reviewers;
  • Require that agencies involve themselves in the process early and comment early, avoiding eleventh-hour objections that can restart the entire review timetable;
  • Establish a reasonable process for determining the scope of project alternatives, so that the environmental review does not devolve into an endless quest to evaluate infeasible alternatives;
  • Consolidate the process into a single Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and single Environmental Assessment (EA) for a project, except as otherwise provided by law;
  • Impose reasonable fixed deadlines for completion of an EIS or EA; and
  • Reduce the statute of limitations to challenge a final EIS or EA from six years to 180 days.

Meanwhile, the White House last week announced a new effort to try to streamline the permitting process. Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan explained the White House had sent direction to federal agencies asking them “to take a series of actions to significantly expand the use of, and ultimately the number of infrastructure projects on, the Federal Infrastructure Permitting Dashboard” a tool that publicly tracks “agency progress on completing Federal permitting and environmental review processes for proposed infrastructure projects.” Click here to read the guidance.