Our national environmental permitting system is broken, threatening economic growth and the clean energy transition. So it’s a relief that allowing reform has gained traction in recent weeks following updates to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the debt ceiling deal between President Biden and congressional Republicans.
While you Changes unlikely to radically accelerate energy and infrastructure projects in America, they make sense because NEPA has historically been the untouchable “third rail” in environmental debates. Thus, a deal on the debt limit may represent only the beginning of reform of the federal permit.
However, it is also notable that states are also taking steps to reform their permitting procedures. One example comes from Virginia, a state that established a new one authorization portal where applicants, as well as government employees and the public, can track a permit application as it moves through the process.
This may sound like no big deal, but websites offering real-time permit tracking are relatively rare in government. One government official told me it’s like FedEx
The website — called the Permit Improvement and Evaluation Platform, or PEEP — is still only in the pilot phase and is aimed at one state agency set to launch, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). On the website, the user can view information about the various projects awaiting DEQ approval, as well as where they are in the process, what has been completed and what remains to be done.
The portal is visually pleasing and easy to use. It documents the key steps, the time each step should take, how long the steps actually took, and who is responsible for each task (applicant or DEQ). A dashboard creates transparency and accountability, ensuring that all parties know who is responsible for the next action.
The portal functions as a management tool – allowing the government to better track the permits it is working to approve – as well as a customer service facility that allows applicants going through the permit process to better track what stage their application is at. The portal even includes a notification system for civil servants when they miss a deadline.
States looking to increase transparency in their own permitting processes should look to Virginia’s new portal as a model. Another potential model is national dashboard from the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, a committee created in 2015 to speed up and improve the environmental review and approval process for major infrastructure projects.
From my discussions with officials in Virginia, the plan is to eventually have as many of the state’s permitting processes as possible tracked in the PEEP system. This will be a huge win for Virginians currently burdened by red tape, and comes on the heels of another major efforts to modernize regulation the state takes over under Governor Glenn Youngkin.
Virginia, for example, is notable for establishing one of the first counties in the country regulatory budgetsand the state has even set an ambitious 25% reduction goal based on new agency inventories of regulatory requirements. Virginia established Regulatory Authority to require and review economic analysis from state authorities to make the rules based on evidence and not just on good intentions.
Governor Youngkin and DEQ Director Mike Rolband deserve credit for establishing the state’s innovative portal. Since enabling reform is currently a hot topic, other states should pay attention. While most of the attention remains at the federal level, states are doing what they can. Virginia is in the lead.