Regulatory Bill Aimed at More Timely Project Reviews

Senate Bill 6527 addresses need for timely permit reviews with regulatory ‘shot clock’

OLYMPIA — For many investors seeking permits to build, expand or develop new infrastructure in Washington, time has not only become the enemy: It’s become a regulatory nightmare.

But a bill approved in committee Wednesday in Olympia would give employers, developers, investors and others seeking project approvals greater certainty about the processing of state permits. Senate Bill 6527, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, would institute clear guidelines and timeframes for permit processing. This regulatory “shot clock” would give those seeking permits clearer timelines as to when permits would be processed and projects could proceed.

SB 6527 requires that:

  • Government agencies responsible for State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) review must complete environmental reviews no later than 30 days after publication of a categorical exemption, a determination of non-significance, or a final Environmental Impact Statement prepared under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA);
  • Government agencies complete environmental project reviews no later than 12 months within time of submitting an application for projects not requiring a federal NEPA review;
  • With limited exception, state permitting agencies must adopt and follow the federal NEPA review if the federal review has already been completed; and
  • Projects be exempt from SEPA review if they are already subject to the federal Coastal Zone Management Act or Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act.

“By providing clearer guidelines, we can help ensure better development of family-wage jobs, particularly in rural areas of the state where economic recovery has been slower,” said Lee Newgent, executive secretary with the Washington State Building & Construction Trades Council. “Tradespeople all over the state are watching and waiting on jobs from proposed infrastructure projects like the ones in Cowlitz, Clark and Whatcom Counties. But you can’t feed families based on hope,” added Newgent. “We need certainty in the permitting process so people can plan.”

“The regulatory process should not be used as to delay or block economic development or infrastructure improvements. It is there to ensure potential environmental impacts are adequately addressed in a timely manner – and right now, we’re missing the timeliness piece of the process,” said Kris Johnson, a KWC advisory board member and president of the Association of Washington Business.

“This bill would bring greater certainty to the permitting process, which leads to job growth and greater investment in our infrastructure. That’s what we need to keep our economy going, boost our competitiveness and enhance our role as a global trade leader. Investors will go elsewhere if we don’t address this now: They have other options.”