Environmental Streamlining Measures in Title 41 of the FAST Act: What Will They Mean for Infrastructure Project Developers?
by Laura Zagar,* William Malley,** and Stephanie Regenold***
Congress passed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act ("FAST Act") last December.1 The FAST Act provides new funding for surface transportation projects and includes measures to streamline environmental reviews for highway, transit, and rail projects. But the FAST Act is more than a transportation bill. Title 41 of the Act adopts significant reforms to the federal environmental review process for a wide range of infrastructure projects, including those involving energy production, electricity transmission, surface transportation, aviation, ports, waterways, water resources, broadband, pipeline, and manufacturing.2
For project applicants, these reforms have many potential benefits, including:
- Making it easier for applicants to engage federal agencies at the outset of the process, in determining a lead agency and establishing a project schedule.
- Setting deadlines for specific agency actions and comment periods during the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA") process.
- Setting benchmarks for the total time needed to complete the NEPA process and requiring project schedules to be consistent with those benchmarks.
- Establishing an online Dashboard to provide greater transparency regarding the federal actions required and the target dates for those actions.
- Establishing an early consultation process for applicants to obtain information and identify key issues of concern to federal agencies.
- Providing clear statutory authority for federal agencies to adopt state environmental documents to satisfy federal laws.
- Providing new mechanisms for resolving disputes among federal agencies regarding the review and permitting of infrastructure projects.
- Setting new limits on litigation challenging federal agencies’ environmental reviews and permit decisions, including a two-year statute of limitations.