Such an effort would allow the administration to implement a series of reforms to how NEPA is implemented given the unlikelihood that Congress will adopt legislative reforms the Trump administration and many GOP lawmakers and industry officials favor to speed approval of infrastructure projects, Mr. Wagner said.
"It is pretty clear to me the objective of the administration is to open up for discussion and revision of the existing CEQ [NEPA] regulations. It's going to happen. I don't know when they will announce it but it will be soon, and they will seek a lot of input and see if they can put a lot of what we talked about in the rules," says Wagner.
The Trump administration's proposed NEPA reforms "mirrors and expands what was done already" by the prior administration and lawmakers, including specific changes to how the Department of Transportation (DOT), of which FHWA is a part, conducts its NEPA reviews that were authorized through MAP 21 in 2012 and the FAST Act in 2016, Wagner says.
Rather than legislating NEPA reforms, a better approach, he says, is to continue building on the progress that the prior administration made, by giving agencies the tools they need to make their reviews more efficient and in compliance with the laws on the books, according to Wagner.
"I believe the last administration made a great deal of progress" in helping agencies better implement their NEPA responsibilities. "What you are seeing now is an acceleration of the same processes."
One item missing from the administration's plan that Wagner finds beneficial to expand beyond DOT is to give agencies authority to combine a final environmental impact statement (EIS) and a record of decision (ROD) -- both required NEPA processes.
Current CEQ rules require a 30-day "cooling off" period between the two documents but the actual lag time is generally six months or more, Wagner says. He notes that combining the EIS and ROD authorities was in an early administration draft infrastructure plan that was leaked but was dropped from the final official version.