The Trump Administration – in a continuing effort to streamline government approvals of major infrastructure projects such as highways, airports, tunnels and pipelines – yesterday proposed the most significant changes in over four decades to federal-level environmental review requirements. (Watch White House news conference video) .
- The proposal by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) would affect implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Comments on the proposal are due by March 10, 2020.
- ”[W]e want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways bigger, better, faster, and we want to build them at less cost. That is why, for the first time in over 40 years, we are issuing a proposed new rule … completely overhaul the dysfunctional bureaucratic system that has created these massive obstructions,” President Trump said yesterday at a news conference unveiling the proposal.
- He added, “In the past, many of America’s most critical infrastructure projects have been tied up and bogged down by an outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process. The builders are not happy. Nobody is happy. These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground, and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers.” (White House remarks, Jan. 9)
- According to CEQ, U.S. federal agencies prepare approximately 170 Environmental Impact Statement per year, which average 600 pages in length and take 4.5 years to conclude. (Reuters, Jan. 9)
- White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairwoman ,Mary Neumayr, stated at yesterday’s event, “It’s important to note that the proposal would reform the process of gathering information on environmental effects, but would not change any substantive environmental law or regulation, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.”
- Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao also noted during the news conference, “We all care about the environment. What we are talking about are cumbersome, unnecessary, overly burdensome, duplicative, and outdated regulations. Many of these regulations have not been updated, modernized, in decades. What we’re seeking is commonsense solutions.” (White House remarks, Jan. 9)
- The Administration’s proposal to streamline the infrastructure approval process complements similar, bipartisan efforts passed by the Senate Public Works Committee in July to speed-up delivery for infrastructure projects. (Roundtable Weekly, Aug. 2, 2019)
- Secretary Chao has addressed the need to streamline the government approval process affecting infrastructure projects for years, including at The Roundtable’s Spring 2017 Meeting in Washington, DC.
- The Roundtable has been a long-standing advocate of increased national infrastructure investment to benefit the economy, job creation and local communities. In June 2017, Roundtable President and CEO Jeffrey D. DeBoer addressed the infrastructure permitting issue on CNBC’s Squawk Box. “We need to streamline and make a lot more efficient the permitting process in a lot of these infrastructure projects. That’s something the President wants to do and it’s hard to argue against it.” DeBoer added, “Permitting is a key part of lowering the costs, lowering the timeframe and reducing the amount of money that is needed for these projects.” (DeBoer on Squawk Box)
It is unlikely that the Administration’s proposal will be finalized before the 2020 general election so that federal agencies can begin applying the updated review criteria. A core issue regarding the proposed changes is whether the government must incorporate climate change concerns as it analyzes an infrastructure project for approval.
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