Opinion—A Blueprint for Expediting Federal Building Permits

Jan 5, 2017

Sen. Dan Sullivan’s proposals are worth considering.

Revitalizing federal construction projects is a two-step process. First, Congress and the White House must pass legislation that provides funding. Second, federal permitting procedures must be radically overhauled.

It takes years, in some cases as much as 15 years, to obtain permits for federally funded projects. Only then can construction begin.

The construction industry does not dispute the genuine need for a thorough review of the environmental and social impacts of major building initiatives. But hearings and agency reviews can and should be done in a reasonable amount of time. Tying these proceedings up in court for years is unreasonable and detrimental to the economic health of the country.

Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska has been championing reasonable permitting rules for years. He outlines his legislative proposals in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.

According to Sen. Sullivan, both the White House and Congress bear responsibility for the glacial pace of current permit reviews. He expects President Trump “to reverse the Obama administration’s abysmal permitting record” by instructing federal agencies within the Executive branch of the government to reduce unnecessary delays in the permitting process.

“But Congress also has a responsibility.” Sen. Sullivan has “introduced the Regulations Endanger Democracy Act, or RED Tape Act, which would cap federal regulations with a simple one-in-one-out rule. When an agency issues a new regulation, it must repeal an old one.” This process is already in effect in the United Kingdom and Canada.

Sen. Sullivan has introduced a separate bill to “expedite federal permitting to repair or rebuild thousands of crumbling bridges across our country.”

The Senator plans to introduce legislation that will establish “the Rebuild America Now Act.” This will set reasonable time limits for either approving or denying a permit. If action on a permit is not finalized within this period the permit would be automatically granted.

The bill will “also create a one-stop shop for environmental reviews and permitting to ensure that projects don’t get bogged down by agencies pursuing different agendas.” One-stop shops for permitting are used successfully by municipalities throughout the country.

Under the Senator’s proposed legislation, there would be time limits for litigation; opponents of a project would no longer be able hold up projects indefinitely.

And finally, the Act “would also have a builder’s and worker’s bill of rights, which would include timely permitting decisions and transparency in agency decision-making to spell out exactly why a permit is denied.”

Senator Sullivan’s initiatives are worthy of consideration and, I believe, support.

Don Wallis has more than 40 years experience in residential and commercial construction, and land development. He also has a law degree and currently teaches Environmental Law at Santa Fe Community College.


How to Put Building Permits on a Fast Track, Sen. Dan Sullivan, The Wall Street Journal, Dec. 5, 2016.