President Trump’s plan to accelerate improvements to America’s infrastructure requires that the nation reform a “root cause” of delay in the implementation of public and private projects: Federal wetland regulation based on Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. Unfortunately, in the process of winning the war on wetlands loss, we have surrendered the ability to put public dollars to work on critical projects in a timely fashion. The current procedures — and the regulatory mindset — for permitting wetlands damage has become as antiquated as the public works we seek to rebuild. The executive order issued by the Trump administration to spend $1 trillion on badly needed upgrades to America’s aging infrastructure system must come with incentive-based changes to our permitting system. The order notes that such projects are all too often delayed due to “agency process and procedures” and attempts to create a prioritization system for most critical infrastructure. Those requiring federal environmental review can be classified as “high priority” by state governors or a host of federal agency executives, which stipulates reviewing applications quickly, within 30 days. Not mentioned or perhaps unrecognized is that there are significant barriers to implementing worthy projects that are built into the permitting system and can bring even the best projects to a grinding halt. Large infrastructure projects usually need a key permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, delegated this authority by the Environmental Protection Agency under the Federal Clean Water Act, for any “impact” to aquatic resources, such as wetlands and streams. Even high-profile economic development projects with compelling public purpose and need are not exempt from these onerous permitting requirements. What is surprising to both developers and environmental professionals is that it’s often just as hard to get a permit to restore wetlands and streams as it is to get a permit to destroy them. Why? The Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates both the destruction of these resources as well as the restoration of them, is configured in such a way that useful permitting is often almost impossible to achieve. The success of a $1 trillion investment in new infrastructure may well depend on who the regulatory chief is in every one of the 38 Army Corps districts across the United States. These chiefs are career civilians with little concern for project timelines or oversight from supervisors. One of the most important appointments of the new administration is the assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, who should fundamentally change the regulatory side of the Corps. We need someone with working knowledge of the regulatory process, who will address systemic dysfunction. The Piedmont Triad Airport in Greensboro, N.C., is a glaring example of how this dynamic can play out. In the early 2000s, North Carolina won the Federal Express search to build an East Coast cargo hub for its delivery operations with a projected $1.2 billion economic impact to the state, eventually transforming the otherwise moribund Piedmont Triad into a great airport. After years of permitting and a lawsuit over noise concerns, there was one final problem: The needed expansion would result in impact to more than 20 acres of wetlands and 12,000 linear feet of stream. Standing in the way: a permit from the Corps that would allow offsetting the impact with corresponding wetland and stream restoration known as compensatory mitigation. The headline in the local paper summarized it well: “Wetlands key to hub permit.” Politicians from the local level up to members of the congressional delegation tried (to no avail) to get the Corps to approve the permit without having to do the mitigation. Fortunately, our company, which was founded in 1998 as part of the nascent mitigation banking industry movement, already had a mitigation site in the same watershed. We were able to contract with the airport authority to provide all of the off-site wetland and stream mitigation required for the Corps to issue the permit to start construction. A modest permitting reform would allow for a truncated process of sequencing so a permittee can, in effect, go straight to mitigate, provided that all of the required offsetting compensation is provided. This would be consistent with the environmental goals of previous administrations, best summed up as “no net loss,” which in essence works to achieve a net gain for compensatory mitigation. If every new road, bridge or cargo hub resulted in more environmental restoration than required for permitting compliance, then new infrastructure spending would also result in a net gain of wetland and stream resources. Why not a goal of net gain, especially if it expedites the permitting timeline for the proposed project? Legislative efforts to expedite permitting timelines, like abbreviating the sequencing process, should be done in advance of new infrastructure spending in order to maximize the efficacy of the effort and avoid delays of past efforts. Our political process has undergone a transformative change with the past election. This presents a unique opportunity to identify and remove long-standing impediments to meaningful and beneficial land and water use — in this case, reforming the regulatory permitting process overseen by the Corps.