April 18, 2023
CEO, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association
Vice President and General Counsel, American Association of Port Authorities
Executive Director, American Society of Civil Engineers
CEO, American Exploration and Production Council
Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
From roads, bridges, and pipelines to expanded broadband access, the development of modern infrastructure can bring the United States toward a brighter, more prosperous future. However, this potential is unlikely to be fully realized without a reform of our nation’s outdated permitting system.
During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Permit America to Build event, experts from various industries came together to discuss the importance of permitting reform — and why there’s no better time than the present to tackle this crucial issue.
Reforming the Permitting Process Can Increase Quality of Life for Rural Americans
Though the panelists came from various industries, they all agreed on one thing: permitting reform is essential.
Shirley Bloomfield, the CEO of NTCA—The Rural Broadband, cited permitting times as a significant area for improvement.
“We talk about trying to get broadband as quickly out [to rural areas] as [fast as] possible. The USDA has a program called the ReConnect Program which was putting a couple of billion dollars into broadband in these markets,” Bloomfield explained. “I had a company that, in the height of the pandemic, had to build across a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) road. It took 18 months for that permit to be given.”
Improving access to essential services, such as internet and broadband, can drastically increase the quality of life for Americans in rural areas. Bloomfield noted how lengthy permitting times, combined with seasonal factors, can delay that process.
“When you build in some of these remote areas, particularly in the northern part of the United States, you might miss a build season by the time the permit actually comes through,” Bloomfield said. “Or, a community that was going to get fiber to the home suddenly has to wait for a couple of years to actually get some of the permitting through.”
Permitting Factors Into the Ability to Import and Export Goods
A shortage of workers, funding issues, and the ability to complete work affects agencies’ plans to keep the supply chain working. Cary Davis, the Vice President and General Counsel of the American Association of Port Authorities, explained that while unprecedented funding opportunities are available, involved parties get “hamstrung” when it comes to putting the funding to work.
“Policymakers ought to be applauded because they understand the criticality of our intermodal freight system and of international trade to the health of the American economy,” Davis said. “These projects are so important to modernizing our system in the round of port infrastructure funding projects.”
Workers, Davis explained, are needed badly by federal agencies in order to review and give their stamp of approval to these projects.
To further his point, Davis cited a project involving a 112-year-old dock in Port Angeles, Washington, which will be replaced only if the right people can cut through the red tape and get the project underway.
Efficient Permitting Saves the Country and Taxpayers Money
According to Tom Smith, the Executive Director of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the country needs to be much more efficient in how it approaches the permitting process.
“Permitting is important. It's critical. We have to engage the community. What does it cost when you fail to act? What are the hidden taxes that citizens pay when we delay and fail to invest in infrastructure?” Smith asked rhetorically. “[It costs] $3,300 per family per year.”
Smith then explained how engineers are taught to approach the permitting process: plan, design, build, operate, maintain, and then repurpose infrastructure.
“What happens now is you plan, wait for five, seven, [or] 10 years, and then they can finish your design, build, operate … and then anywhere in that process, there may be more permitting that's required that can delay the process,” he said.
Bipartisan Agreement for Permitting Reform Offers Significant Opportunity
Despite the challenges ahead, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree that now is the time to tackle permitting reform.
“The real-world implications for our families and businesses, …the sense of urgency to get this done, and the ability to seize on the opportunity of a rare moment of bipartisan agreement really is the right recipe … and a great opportunity to get much-needed permitting reform done,” emphasized Neil Bradley, Executive Vice President, Chief Policy Officer, and Head of Strategic Advocacy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Anne Bradbury, CEO of the American Exploration and Production Council, said everyone has “skin” in the game, which is supercritical at this point. “We're early in the process, but group discussions like this continue to move the ball forward, and I'm really optimistic about this opportunity this year.”