While our country continues to work to respond to the unprecedented coronavirus crisis, there is a bipartisan consensus in Washington that we must also cooperate to get our economy going again and help people get back to work safely.
I believe infrastructure must be part of that conversation. This has long been a priority for both parties and the president, and there is no better time than right now to come together around a solution.
We know that the United States needs more smart, large-scale infrastructure projects that will create jobs, grow the economy, and make our country run better. From ports and waterways to promote international trade, to natural gas pipelines and windmills to bolster our energy security, to expanding broadband coverage to rural parts of the country, these projects are critical to our economic future.
That’s why, in 2015, I introduced the Federal Permitting Improvement Act, which Congress ultimately enacted into law as Title 41 of the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation or FAST Act. That law, now known as FAST-41, significantly reformed the federal infrastructure permitting process while upholding environmental protections. It also created the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council, a government body composed of representatives from 17 government agencies, which reduces inefficiencies in the permitting process for some of the largest infrastructure projects.
We received more good news recently when the permitting council released its annual report to Congress. The report found that FAST-41 led to the creation of more than 127,000 temporary construction jobs and more than 3,000 permanent jobs across the U.S. over the last year.
Right now, however, this program is set to expire in 2022, meaning that we will lose the improved coordination between federal agencies and increased certainty for project sponsors if we don’t act soon. That’s why last year, I introduced legislation called the Federal Permitting Reform and Jobs Act, which will lift the sunset provision on FAST-41 and allow the permitting council to continue its great work into the future.
As we work to recover from this coronavirus crisis, it will be essential to help the nearly 40 million people who have lost their jobs get back to work. Large infrastructure projects have been shown to be a great source of jobs and economic growth. I believe they represent an important part of any recovery effort moving forward.
That’s why this permitting council report is so significant — it shows that these projects can move forward in an efficient and merit-based manner, meaning that we can start breaking ground and seeing the benefits of these investments even faster.
Our legislation to lift the FAST-41 sunset provision has already passed the committee level and now awaits passage on the Senate floor. I’m committed to getting it passed this year so that we can continue to make sure more infrastructure projects get done on time and under budget.
Rob Portman is a U.S. Senator from Ohio serving in Washington.