Mar 12, 2014 - 9:00am

Former Official: There’s Room to Improve the U.S. Regulatory System

With the nation’s energy future hanging in the balance, now is the time to move ahead on the much-needed regulatory reforms, including streamlining the process for federal regulatory permits, according to former administration official and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union, C. Boyden Gray.

“We all know the highest-profile examples, such as the Keystone XL pipeline, the Cape Wind offshore wind farm, and the government’s own Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. In these cases and others, various regulators—and outside groups, leveraging the permit process and opportunities for litigation—managed to delay the projects by years, if not permanently. But even more worrisome is the fact that there are myriad other examples, ones that do not earn equivalent public notice, but which are also very important to the nation’s economic future, especially with respect to energy development,” Gray told the Senate Subcommittee on the Efficiency and Effectiveness of Federal Programs and the Federal Workforce.

Gray said S. 1397, the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, would go a long way to mitigate many of these problems. By placing OMB at the head of the new “Federal Infrastructure Permitting Improvement Council,” and designating one specific agency as the “lead agency” for each type of multi-permit project, S. 1397 would help coordinate scattered agencies and set deadlines for the various approvals needed for a given project, Gray said.

Gray also came out in support of S. 1029, the Regulatory Accountability Act. “Congress already imposes cost-benefit analysis requirements on some independent agencies, in very limited ways. Congress is long overdue to impose such a fundamental obligation on all agencies, be they ‘independent’ or ‘executive,’” Gray said.

Regulatory reform is more important than ever, Gray said, “as we experience unprecedented growth in the scope and burden of the administrative state.”

But, Gray cautioned, it is also important to keep in mind not just procedural reforms, but also substantive reforms. “Agencies wield vast powers only because Congress has delegated them such vast powers. To truly reform the administrative state, Congress must undertake serious reforms of the underlying statutes themselves, to limit the delegations of power to the agencies.”

Sen. Angus King (I-ME) also testified at the hearing in support of permit streamlining, and specifically discussed the absurdity of the 12-year permitting process that Cape Wind has gone through. He also announced that he will sign on as a cosponsor of the S. 1397, bringing the number of Democrat cosponsors to four.

Read Gray and King’s testimony here

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About the Author

Sheryll Poe is a former senior writer at the U.S. Chamber, who covered public policies affecting businesses including the three "T's" - transportation, trade and taxes.