USDOT Implements Executive Order Safeguarding Environment

Thursday, September 19, 2002
U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta announced steps the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is taking to implement President Bush’s executive order regarding environmental stewardship and the streamlining of environmental review of important transportation infrastructure projects. The executive order calls for a Cabinet-level task force reporting to the President through the chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality to ensure that environmentally sound projects are not held up unnecessarily by inefficient review procedures. “Too many transportation projects become mired for too long in the complex web of clearances required by federal and state law. This initiative is intended to make our transportation investments more efficient, helping to ease congestion and reduce pollution,” Secretary Mineta said in letters to the governors, Congressional committee leaders and stakeholders. “By working in close concert with governors and transportation leaders, we hope to identify effective procedures for routinely expediting consideration of environmentally sound transportation projects nationwide. Commonsense streamlining and responsible environmental stewardship motivate our effort in equal measure.” While the nation’s transportation system is congested and strained, too many projects that would ease congestion and reduce emissions are delayed by a complex and often duplicative permitting process. In 2001 the median time to process environmental documents for major highway projects was four and a half years. Over the past 10 years, the median time to process environmental documents for major transit projects was three years and ten months. The average environmental review time for airport runways, including decision time, is more than three years or about one-third of the 10-year planning time for a new commercial service runway. The total time required for a major new highway or airport to go from planning to opening averages 13 years for highways and 10 years for airports.

In the executive order, President Bush instructed the Cabinet to form a review team, an interagency Transportation Infrastructure Streamlining Task Force, and appointed Secretary Mineta to chair it. The task force will work to streamline environmental reviews of specific, high-impact transportation construction projects – airport, highway, transit and intermodal. Secretary Mineta said that all activities flowing from the order will still be required to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and all other environmental statutes, and that the President’s order today goes beyond just compliance. The executive order directs the Department of Transportation to continue and expand environmental stewardship for transportation projects. The executive order builds upon ongoing efforts by the USDOT, other federal agencies and their transportation partners to streamline the decision making process in response to the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) and the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR 21). Secretary Mineta said that the U.S. Department of Transportation will develop a list of specific streamlining projects “to tackle immediately.” In his letters, Secretary Mineta asked for project nominations from governors, local authorities such as airport directors and metropolitan planning organizations, and other transportation leaders. “Working with state and federal agencies, we expect to help cut through red tape and promote effective strategies for taking time out of the decision making process,” Secretary Mineta said. Based on its experience in accelerating review of the initial list of high priority projects, the Department in the future will develop a series of “best practices” for streamlining the decision making process on all transportation infrastructure projects and for enhancing environmental stewardship. Concurrent with the executive order, the transportation planning and environmental rulemakings, proposed by the Federal Highway and Transit Administrations in May 2000, are being withdrawn. A notice will be published in the Federal Register. A supplemental rulemaking dealing specifically with local consultation was issued in June 2002. The task force members in addition to Secretary Mineta include the U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, the Interior and Defense as well as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Chair of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.

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