Trump signs order rolling back environmental rules on infrastructure

[Source: The New York Times] President Trump announced on Tuesday that he had signed a sweeping executive order to eliminate and streamline some permitting regulations and to speed construction of roads, bridges and pipelines, declaring that the moves would fix a “badly broken” infrastructure system in America and bring manufacturing jobs back to the country.

In an explosive news conference overshadowed by questions about his response to a white nationalist rally over the weekend in Charlottesville, Va., Mr. Trump tried several times to steer the conversation back to infrastructure.

The president has vowed to pass a $1 trillion package to revitalize the nation’s infrastructure, but so far no such legislation exists. Mr. Trump said he was not worried about his chances of winning support for his plan, even in the wake of a failed effort to overhaul health care.

“We will end up getting health care, but we’ll get the infrastructure, and actually infrastructure is something that I think we’ll have bipartisan support on,” Mr. Trump said. “I actually think Democrats will go along with the infrastructure.”

Flanked by Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at Trump Tower in Manhattan, Mr. Trump unveiled a head-to-toe-length flow chart purporting to show the permitting regulations required to build a highway in a state he would not name that he claimed took 17 years.

“This is what we will bring it down to — this is less than two years,” Mr. Trump said, dropping the paper to the ground and revealing a new flow chart about a quarter of the size.

“We used to have the greatest infrastructure anywhere in the world, and today we’re like a third-world country,” he said. “No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay.”

A key element of the new executive order rolls back standards set by former President Barack Obama that required the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure.

It also puts in place what the White House called a “one federal decision policy” under which one lead federal agency works with others to complete environmental reviews and other permitting decisions for a given project. All decisions on federal permits will have to be made within 90 days, and agencies will have a two-year goal to process environmental reviews for major projects.

“It’s going to be a very streamlined process, and by the way, if it doesn’t meet environmental safeguards, we’re not going to approve it,” Mr. Trump said.

Some Republicans cheered the executive order. Representative Rob Bishop of Utah called it a strong foundation upon which Congress can move forward an infrastructure bill. “It’s encouraging to have a president who understands that regulatory reform is a precondition for any successful infrastructure policy,” he said in a statement.

Rolling back the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, established by Mr. Obama in an executive order in 2015, is the latest effort by the Trump administration to unravel the former president’s climate change agenda. Building trade groups and Republican lawmakers had criticized the rule as costly and overly burdensome.

But environmental activists, flood plain managers and some conservatives had urged the Trump administration to preserve it, arguing that it protected critical infrastructure and taxpayer dollars.

“The Trump administration’s decision to overturn this is a disaster for taxpayers and the environment,” said Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington. He described the Obama order as a common-sense measure to prevent taxpayer money from being sunk into projects threatened by flooding.

A White House official said that Mr. Trump’s order reinstated the previous flood management standard, issued by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, but that it did not prohibit state and local agencies from using more stringent standards if they chose.

Source: The New York Times
August 15, 2017