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President Trump Orders Expedited Environmental Reviews for High Priority Infrastructure Projects

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On Tuesday, January 24, 2017, President Trump issued an “Executive Order Expediting Environmental Reviews and Approvals For High Priority Infrastructure Projects” (“Order”). The Order establishes an executive branch policy to “streamline and expedite . . . consistent with law” environmental reviews for infrastructure projects. The Order specifically highlights the significance of projects to improve the electric grid and telecommunications systems, as well as projects to repair and upgrade port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges, and highways.

The Order tasks the Chairman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ Chairman”) with designating “high-priority” infrastructure projects in response to requests from a state’s governor or a Federal agency head, as well as upon his or her own initiative. The CEQ Chairman’s high-priority determinations must be based on (1) a project’s impact on the general welfare; (2) its value to the United States; (3) its environmental benefits; and (4) any other factors the CEQ Chairman deems relevant.

Once a project has received a high-priority designation, the CEQ Chairman will coordinate with the appropriate agency heads to establish “expedited procedures and deadlines” for completion of necessary environmental reviews and approvals. Agencies must then give “highest priority” to meeting these deadlines. In the event that an agency fails to meet an assigned milestone, it must provide to the CEQ Chairman a written explanation for its failure and an accounting of actions taken by the agency.

The Order also provides that all required actions under the Order must be taken in a manner that does not impair intelligence or law enforcement activities. The Order is available here.

The Order is one of a series of executive actions taken on January 24th by President Trump. Other actions (1) provide expedited and simplified procedures for Dakota Access Pipeline approval; (2) invite a TransCanada subsidiary to reapply for a Presidential permit for the Keystone XL Pipeline using streamlined procedures; (3) call for a plan from the Department of Commerce to use, to the maximum extent possible, domestically produced materials and equipment in pipeline projects; and (4) direct agencies to simplify permitting and regulatory processes for domestic manufacturing facilities.

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