Bill to speed up project permits stuck in Senate

A bill designed to cut bureaucratic red tape seems to be stuck in it.

Sponsored by U.S. Rep. Tom Marino, R-Cogan Station, the Responsibly and Professionally Invigorating Development (RAPID) Act of 2013 passed the U.S. House of Representatives in March after a 229-179 vote.

It’s languished in the Senate ever since, he said.

If it becomes law, the bill would implement measures to streamline the approval process for energy, infrastructure and other construction projects, all of which must meet requirements set at the federal, state and local levels.

Except Marino doesn’t expect the RAPID Act to be considered by the Senate anytime soon.

“I’m getting tired of hearing, ‘It’s a do-nothing Congress,’ ” Marino said on Wednesday. “It’s a do-nothing Democratic Senate. The bills are out there to prove it.”

His bill sets deadlines for agencies involved in construction projects, such as an 18-month deadline for an environmental assessment and a 36-month deadline for an environmental impact statement.

“It’s a straightforward piece of legislation,” the congressman said. “It’s not unusual for the permitting process – whether it’s for a mall or a gas pipeline – to take 15 years.”

The bill also could cut down on prolonged lawsuits that challenge permitting decisions.

“There’s always a group out there that stops the process to sue,” Marino said. “This bill sets a 180-day statute of limitations.”

Marino said the bill could prevent “hundreds, if not thousands,” of jobs from being lost because of a slow, and often redundant process.

For example, a new environmental assessment will not be necessary for a project if it’s likely to have a similar impact on the environment as a nearby project that took place within the previous five years, according to language in the bill.

Despite the holdup in the Senate, Marino is not discouraged.

“That’s not going to stop me from moving legislation and working with my colleagues,” he said, adding that some of those colleagues are Democrats.

Twelve Democrats voted in favor of the bill, two of which were co-sponsors: U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, of New York, and Collin C. Peterson, of Minnesota.