Administration officials have stated on numerous occasions their commitment to streamlining federal permitting for big infrastructure projects. But at the same time some of our nation’s biggest, most important projects have been stuck in a regulatory holding pattern. As these projects have languished, so have the jobs, economic activity and tax-revenues that would be unleashed if Washington were true to its word.
The rhetoric certainly has been impressive. In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama vowed to “clear away the red tape that slows down too many construction projects.” He issued an executive order to make the process faster and more efficient in order to help “maintain our Nation’s competitive edge.”
Last month, the White House announced that the administration’s efforts were “cutting red tape and shaving months, and even years, off the time it takes to review and approve major infrastructure projects.” The administration even set up a Federal Infrastructure Projects Permitting Dashboard, which supposedly “provides an unprecedented level of transparency into the Federal permitting and review process.”
Shovel-ready projects kept at bay
Sounds great, but not everyone seems to have gotten the memos. How else to explain the delay and inaction coming from Washington on permitting for a number of massive, shovel-ready infrastructure projects that are just waiting for a federal thumbs up?
The best example, of course, is the Keystone XL pipeline, about which I’ve written many times before. Thousands of construction jobs would be created immediately, if only the administration would give approval to a project that its own State Department recommends. And don’t forget that the president’s first National Security Advisor argues Keystone XL would enhance America’s national security.
Another example that has come into view recently is the extremely slow approach taken by the Department of Energy to process liquefied natural gas (LNG) export applications. DOE has moved on just two applications for exports to non-free trade agreement countries, waiting two years between rulings. Twenty more applications remain mired in Washington’s bureaucratic morass, including Golden Pass Products, a proposed project on the Texas Gulf Coast in which ExxonMobil is a partner.
DOE recently has vowed to pick up the pace in processing approvals. But even their new suggested pace for processing approvals is too slow. As ExxonMobil Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson noted last week, delays are costing U.S. companies millions of dollars each day, while eroding the competitive edge the president vowed to maintain.
The irony of the federal government’s slow-walk approach to export applications is that a DOE-commissioned report concluded that higher export levels will stimulate more production and better help the economy. A subsequent study showed that LNG exports could generate huge numbers of new jobs. But all that good news will be for naught if the federal government won’t act.
“Your search yielded no results”
For all the smart talk out of Washington about cutting red tape, what speaks loudest might just be the White House’s Permitting Dashboard, designed to take transparency into permitting and review to new levels.
To some degree it succeeds. Type “Keystone” or “LNG” into the Dashboard’s search engine.
What comes up?
This needs to change. It isn’t a good sign for an administration that has pledged to cut timelines in half for major infrastructure projects. Nor is it a good sign for the economy overall.