Trump signs sweeping executive order for infrastructure projects

Directive sets 2-year target for completing federal approvals of infrastructure projects. Trump administration proposes $200 billion in government funding over 10 years as part of a goal of getting $1 trillion in public and private infrastructure spending — to privatize the air traffic control system, strengthen rural infrastructure and repair bridges, roads and waterways.

Irshad Salim — US President Donald Trump on Tuesday signed a sweeping executive order “establishing discipline and accountability in the environmental review and permitting process for infrastructure projects.”

The order directs federal agencies to accelerate environmental permitting for major infrastructure projects, setting a goal to complete federal environmental reviews, permits or other approvals within two years.

While making the announcement during his press conference in New York, 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.”

Trump, who was a real estate developer before becoming president, made rebuilding the country’s crumbling infrastructure a top campaign issue.

He has proposed leveraging $200 billion over 10 years in government spending into $1 trillion of projects to privatize the air traffic control system, strengthen rural infrastructure and repair bridges, roads and waterways.

Construction industry groups welcomed Trump’s new executive order but environmental organizations strongly criticized it as the directive revokes a January 2015 executive order signed by President Obama establishing a federal flood-risk standard to promote projects’ resiliency.

Industry groups, including the National Association of Home Builders and Associated General Contractors of America had called on the Trump administration to strike down the Obama floodplain order.

In announcing the environmental permitting order, Trump told reporters gathered at the Trump Tower in New York City, “This over-regulated permitting process is a massive self-inflicted wound on our country….denying our people much-needed investments in their community.”

He said highway projects can require as many as 16 approvals from nine federal agencies under 29 laws. “One agency can stall a project for many, many years, and even decades,” Trump said.

The new executive order provides for one lead federal agency to oversee reviews for each project.

It also covers a wide range of project types, including surface transportation, aviation, ports, water resources, energy, pipelines, drinking water, wastewater treatments and broadband.

The directive defines “major infrastructure projects” as those that require multiple federal approvals and an environmental impact statement (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act. It does not set a minimum dollar amount for project size.

The two-year goal for approvals is an approximate average, with the clock starting with the date when a notice of intent to produce an EIS is published, “or other benchmark deemed appropriate” by the Office of Management and Budget director.

The order’s other important target is that the federal government is to finish all approval decisions for a project within 90 days after the lead agency issues a record of decision, which is the final step in the EIS process.

Nick Goldstein, American Road & Transportation Builders Association vice president for regulatory affairs, points to the two-year and 90-day timetables and the lead agency provision and says, “These are good themes in terms of reducing delay in project delivery.”

But Rhea Suh, Natural Resources Defense Council president, opposed the executive order. She said in a statement, “We can’t afford to short-change our future by short-circuiting common sense safeguards that protect clean water and air.” Suh added, “Arbitrary decisions and artificial deadlines can lead to costly mistakes we’ll all pay for down the line.”

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