By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory and legal issues, ARTBA
The Trump administration is finalizing multiple regulations before it leaves office, and ARTBA is ensuring that transportation construction industry interests are represented in these end-of-year filings. Recent developments include:
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Dec. 23 said it will not tighten federal standards for ozone, a decision that ensures U.S. counties currently in compliance with the Clean Air Act are not at risk of losing federal highway funding.
EPA is required to review ozone standards every five years. The last time it chose to retain, rather than tighten, the standards was 1993. In October comments and public testimony, ARTBA pointed to EPA’s own data stating these emissions have fallen “significantly” since 1990 as evidence that the current standard is working.
States will have the opportunity to use their own environmental regulations as opposed to federal regulations under a new pilot program announced Dec. 28 by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). The program would allow states to use their own regulatory requirements for reviewing transportation projects, provided those requirements maintain the same level or greater environmental protection as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
ARTBA supported the pilot in 2017 comments, noting “allowing states to assume responsibility for environmental reviews rather than provide information to federal agencies on a case-by-case basis reduces the amount of time involved in the environmental review and approval process by lessening the burden on federal agencies.” The new program is slated to take effect Jan. 27, 2021.
DOT NEPA Modernization
ARTBA commended the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) for swiftly moving to implement recent NEPA improvements. Specifically, the agency is implementing the recent improvements to NEPA made by the President’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) earlier in 2020. In Dec. 23 comments to the agency, ARTBA praised U.S. DOT’s leadership on NEPA reform and called the regulatory changes “welcome and long overdue.”
FHWA Highway Design Standards
ARTBA Dec. 24 supported FHWA’s efforts to update highway design standards. The agency’s November proposal would reduce confusion and bureaucratic hurdles by removing outdated or superseded design standards. State DOTs commonly design for freeway resurfacing, rehabilitation and restoration (RRR) projects. However, under current standards, the design must meet requirements for new highway construction, or the state DOT must request a design exception from FHWA.
The new proposal fixes this inefficiency by recognizing that RRR projects are not new construction and no longer requiring them to be treated as such.