The Permitting and Regulatory Landscape

September 25, 2018

Energy infrastructure is subject to a complex regime of regulatory, permitting and siting requirements at all levels of government. Actions taken by the current and previous Administrations have made meaningful inroads toward simplifying this complex regulatory landscape and reducing the regulatory burden.

Specifically, the creation and initial implementation of a fast-track process for infrastructure permitting (FAST-41) and the actions specified in Executive Order No. 13766 (Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals for High Priority Infrastructure Projects) and Executive Order No. 13807 (Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects) establish a much-needed path forward for streamlining the process of approving energy infrastructure systems. While these executive actions constitute strong first steps, continued efforts are needed at all levels of government to fully implement reforms, eliminate costly delays and uncertainties, and unlock critical investments in energy infrastructure.

Overlapping and duplicative requirements, inconsistencies across agencies, and lengthy administrative processes can cause significant delays or roadblocks to infrastructure construction.

  • Energy infrastructure is regulated at the federal, state and local levels. In fact, most energy infrastructure is subject to more than 35 separate permitting responsibilities spread across 18 federal agencies and implemented by staff located in offices around the country.
  • Bottlenecks in the permitting and approval process can lead to significant construction delays. For instance, more than 4,600 miles of interstate pipeline projects have been postponed for more than six months.
  • The frequency and duration of permitting delays have grown over time, with the share of projects delayed more than 90 days increasing by 28 percent and projects delayed more than 180 days increasing by 20 percent between 2005 and 2012

At the federal level, the process of conducting Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) — as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — is in need of reform to balance environmental and economic interests.

  • Although critical for safeguarding the environment, the current process for producing EISs has grown excessively complex and time consuming; the average preparation time for the final 197 EISs completed in 2012 was 1,675 days — or nearly 4.6 years.
  • The volume of major infrastructure projects requiring review can overwhelm regulatory resources. In 2012, federal agencies completed EISs for nearly 400 projects, which are required by NEPA for all projects “significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”