Federal permitting reform would help advance economic development in Utah

Investments in infrastructure and economic development help create jobs, strengthen Utah businesses, and support a stronger, more vibrant economy for our entire state. However, an onerous, inefficient permitting process can often delay or prevent these efforts from moving forward under a reasonable timeframe, undermining economic growth that could improve our communities. To address this issue, Congress should work to pass federal permitting reform in a timely manner while agreement abides on both sides of the aisle for this issue.

In Utah and across the country, businesses face enormous obstacles when seeking federal permits for a range of infrastructure and economic development projects. Burdensome regulations and government red tape create massive delays that can increase costs, reduce flexibility, and prevent the benefits of these projects from ever reaching Utah communities. 

Moreover, complying with these regulations can also be a costly endeavor, as businesses may need to bring in outside consultants and lawyers just to help navigate the practice. The overly complex and convoluted permitting process — which often duplicates efforts at the local, state, and federal levels — can create uncertainty for businesses, reducing the incentive to invest and discouraging economic growth.

There is no reason for the siting and permitting process to take as long as it does. Currently, an environmental review — just one step in the process — can take a decade or longer to complete. The Center for Growth and Opportunity at Utah State University has labeled this approach as litigation-proofing the process. We need a better, more efficient process that moves at the speed of business, not the federal government. 

That is why Congress must work to pass additional meaningful, bipartisan legislation that simplifies, streamlines, and modernizes our nation’s outdated federal permitting process to reduce the time it takes to obtain a permit. Commonsense permitting reform would help improve coordination between different government agencies so businesses can move critical projects forward more efficiently while being able to respond to market demands and create jobs for Utahans more effectively. The recent debt ceiling negotiations and deal included a step in the right direction by setting quicker time limits for assessments, but more work needs to be done with legislation specifically focused on direct permitting reform.

With the passage of the infrastructure law, Congress has already shown it can move major bipartisan legislation forward to address our nation’s basic needs. For example, the recent bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was negotiated by Senator Romney, mandates a single federal agency lead the environmental review process for infrastructure projects and set specific deadlines for the issuance of environmental assessments and impact statements. These changes can facilitate the construction of essential infrastructure projects for Utah in a faster and more responsible manner. 

Passage of that law also illustrated that there is support for permitting reform on both sides of the aisle. Utah’s Congressional delegation should play a leadership role on this issue to help make permitting reform a reality this legislative session. Not only would our state greatly benefit from permitting reform, but Senator Lee and Congressman Curtis hold membership on the committees of jurisdiction in the Senate and House, respectively. Making permitting reform a reality would help move critical economic development efforts forward here in Utah and throughout the country.

Derek Miller is the president and CEO of the Salt Lake Chamber and Downtown Alliance