During the past few years, the Biden Administration and Congress have sought ways to help the United States rebuild its infrastructure. From building bridges, roads, highways, and airports to capping our wells and expanding our broadband, focusing on infrastructure development can bring the United States into a brighter future.
However, realizing the full potential of this development will require reforms to modernize our nation’s current permitting processes. During the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s initial Permit America to Build event, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito shared ways Congress can work together to achieve meaningful permitting reform in America.
Committees Must Work Together to Reach a Meaningful Consensus
Capito opened her discussion by stressing the significance of permitting America to build and our ability to do so as a country.
“This is essential, and I think it, it's not just … something that we have to, but I think it's something that we really can do,” she said. “And as you know, in these highly-political, polarized times, it's nice to find the things that you can do together.”
As the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Capito has worked with chairman Sen. Tom Carper to put such initiatives into action. For instance, she noted, the pinnacle of their collaboration was the passing of the Infrastructure Bill in 2021.
“The real crux of that bill … were two really important pieces of legislation: the highway bill and the drinking water and wastewater bill," Capito said. "We moved both of those bills through our committee, through regular order with amendments, with discussion, with back and forth negotiation … between the Republicans and Democrats. We passed both of those bills out of our committee unanimously.”
Regarding the possibilities of permitting reform and what that will look like going forward, Capito said committees must work together.
“Hopefully, we can get to that meaningful consensus within our committees,” she said.
The Permitting Process Needs More Enforceable Deadlines
To make genuine progress, Capito noted the permitting process must have more enforceable deadlines.
“We really believe that the agencies just keep passing the buck, elongating [and] delay[ing], for a couple of reasons,” she said. “Number one, they don't like the projects. They hope if they delay long enough, they'll just fold.”
From there, Capito explained, the process becomes too expensive and too difficult to defend — until, ultimately, it is neglected.
“There's no meat behind an enforceable deadline,” she added. “If they go past a deadline … basically nothing happens in terms of the agency. All it does is push more and more of the burden onto the developer, the builder, the community, the state, and whoever is participating.”
To address this issue, Capito highlighted the importance of creating more enforceable deadlines with specific time limits.
“I think it's important to emphasize … we're not looking to shave any environmental review,” she said. “We're not looking to bowl over any kind of clean water or clean air actions that would damage our environment … The goal is to make enforceable timelines and deadlines.”
When It Comes to Policy Development, ‘We Have to Get It Right the First Time’
According to Capito, the main focus right now should be on forming an effective and meaningful policy.
“What my goal is — and how I think it's even more possible — is to get the policy right,” she said. “I think the catchword … is ‘meaningful.’”
Capito noted many stakeholders adopt the “work it out later” strategy, which can delay the process even more.
“A lot of times, it never works because you never quite get to it, or it's held out as a bargaining chip that never gets used,” she said. “We have to get it right the first time.”
Capito emphasized that the general consensus of the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate is to simply get it done — and get it right.
“Let’s work towards the end of this being meaningful reform — reform that makes a difference [and] lets us build.”