Overview of Success
In May 2001, Washington state passed the Environmental Permit Streamlining Act (EPSA RCW 47.06), which lasts for two years. Washington is the first state in the nation to create a new state committee, the Transportation Permit Efficiency and Accountability Committee (TPEAC), with the authority to develop a streamlined, "one-stop" permit process. "This bill will serve as a national model of how government agencies at all levels can coordinate and possibly integrate their individual procedures to give projects thorough reviews, allow full public involvement, and arrive at decisions more speedily," explains Washington's Governor Gary Locke.
In order to increase predictability and consistency in the permitting process while reducing delays and costs, EPSA focuses on linking transportation and environmental investment and planning. Having one of the 18 state pilots testing the effectiveness of watershed-based management funded by the Federal Highway Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington used the lessons it learned to build the watershed-based approach of the EPSA. By coordinating transportation investments in mitigation with other Federal and state investments in watersheds, EPSA will leverage more money for environmental protection. EPSA will also create a committee that will develop a streamlined process of coordinated and consolidated permit review, public hearings, and decision-making timelines. The specific goals of EPSA are to reduce both the number of redesign actions and the length of the permit process by 50 percent, to reduce mitigation costs by 25 percent, and to increase environmental benefits by 50 percent. To meet these goals, the number of state and Federal resource agency staff dedicated to transportation projects will be doubled.
EPSA brings together state legislators, state and local agencies, city, county,and business associations, the construction industry, and environmental, labor, and Tribal interests. Stakeholder participation has been high because Washington's approach is not project-by-project but includes all aspects of the transportation planning and review process, thus increasing predictability, inclusiveness, and efficiency. The TPEAC, which meets monthly, will ensure that issues are addressed early and will develop a "one stop" environmental permitting process that uses interdisciplinary teams and concurrent review. The TPEAC also facilitates agreement on standards and best management practices, creates methodologies for analyzing environmental impacts and applying compensatory mitigation, and recommends to the state legislature ways to eliminate duplicative processes. Disagreements are resolved with a dispute resolution process adopted by the TPEAC. Five subcommittees address specific goals, including developing programmatic agreements for smaller, more common projects that can be combined under a single permit. As much as 60 percent of the state's permitting activities may fall under these agreements.
Permit Drafting and Delegation of Authority
EPSA will demonstrate the ability of the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to draft its own permits and NEPA documentation for Federal, state, and local resource agency review and to conduct
its own compliance activities. WSDOT will conduct pre-bid meetings and field inspections to ensure that contractors are complying with permit conditions, fund state resource agencies to conduct audits of WSDOT permit and compliance activities, and report annually to the legislature. Inadequate resource agency staffing can cause delays in writing permits for transportation projects. By assigning WSDOT the responsibility, resource agencies can focus on permit reviews, and more time and money can be spent on complex projects with large environmental impacts. In addition, WSDOT is seeking Federal delegation to the state of Section 404 permit authority and Section 106 cultural resource designation. WSDOT has already been designated as the non-Federal representative for informal consultations under the Endangered Species Act and for Essential Fish Habitat consultations under the Magnuson-Stevens Act.
Lessons to be Learned from Pilot Projects
The products and processes created by the TPEAC and its subcommittees will be tested on three pilot projects. The TPEAC will identify pilot projects in urban, near-built-out (almost totally developed), and rural locales, and each pilot will coordinate Federal, state, and local reviews. Lessons learned from the pilots and other TPEAC products will be applied to the projects of statewide significance chosen by the TPEAC. Projects of statewide significance are complex projects involving multiple governmental agencies and are essential to the state's economic well-being. By testing lessons learned, the TPEAC can measure effectiveness, recommend statutory or regulatory changes to the state legislature, and promote successful strategies statewide.
In order to obtain a permit for a project, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) must consider 27 Federal laws, 19 state statutes, six local ordinances, and the treaty obligations of 28 Native American tribes. Too much money and time were being spent on redundant processes and analyses, delaying projects and diverting resources from environmental improvements. Spurred by statewide consensus that transportation problems had reached a crises level, Governor Gary Locke appointed a Blue Ribbon Commission study, which recently identified financing and efficiency opportunities for streamlining in the transportation permitting process.
Prompted by the Blue Ribbon Commission's findings, the new Washington Environmental Permit Streamlining Act (EPSA) is the culmination of WSDOT's work over the past seven years. WSDOT supports environmental streamlining liaisons at several state and Federal resource agencies and has increased its streamlining staff, research capacity, and technical expertise. In addition, WSDOT has piloted many innovations in wetlands, NEPA reinvention, and Endangered Species Act consultation, and has been educating the Washington legislature about the state's environmental streamlining needs. Over the years, WSDOT's strong relationship with the state legislature has helped develop several bills that address innovations in wetlands, fish passage, and watershed management.
WSDOT will need to overcome several obstacles in implementing EPSA, including moving state agencies toward a coordinated, "one stop" permit process, fostering interagency relationships, helping Federal agencies with limited staff participate in the process, and measuring performance.
For more information, visit: http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Environment/Programmatics/default.htm