WHITE HOUSE - U.S. President Donald Trump has unveiled a top-to-bottom overhaul of the review process for infrastructure projects that critics contend causes major cracks in bedrock conservations laws.
“This is something that nobody thought was possible,” Trump said on the outskirts of Atlanta’s airport on Wednesday, contending that “horrible roadblocks” due to environmental regulations had cost “trillions of dollars” over the years.
The president said his new rule “completely modernizes the approval review process under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969,” which will cut the timeline for major projects, including highways, from up to 20 years down to two years or less.
“You’re not going to devote a lifetime to doing a project that doesn’t get approved,” Trump said of the streamlined process. “It’s going to be very quick — yes or no, after study.”
In his remarks at the Hapeville Airport Hub of United Parcel Service, Trump discussed how he had personally experienced frustration with “mountains and mountains of red tape” over the decades in the real estate industry.
He remarked how “years and years of litigation and tumult” in the maze-like approval process had caused massive delays for his projects and those of other developers.
For the second day in a row, Trump pivoted from a presidential announcement to attacking his opponent in this year’s election, former Vice President and presumptive Democratic Party nominee Joe Biden.
"Our past vice president opposes all of our permitting reforms," the Republican president said.
The rollbacks to the act, known by its acronym, NEPA, could be removed with a simple majority vote in Congress and the president’s signature, something the opposition party is almost certain to attempt, depending on the outcome of the November election.
A number of major polls now give Biden a significant lead over Trump, and some forecast the Democrats could win enough seats in the Senate to take control of both chambers of Congress.
“Trump is once again selling out and silencing communities in favor of giant corporate polluters,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, who unsuccessfully vied for this year’s Democratic Party nomination to take on Trump.
More than 100 Democrat lawmakers wrote to the administration last week, opposing the planned changes to NEPA, noting that communities facing environment inequality “have been targeted for projects, and, in turn, continue to experience negative environmental and health impacts.”
“NEPA was created to give a voice to those who are often rendered voiceless and has successfully allowed impacted populations to challenge projects that negatively affect their water quality, air quality, economic prosperity, and overall health and safety,” the lawmakers added, predicting the changes will threaten and undermine “years of hard-fought progress.”
The changes made by Trump’s administration are dangerous, costly and short-sighted, said Cheryl Wasserman, a former policy official with the enforcement and compliance assurance division of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
NEPA is a “look and listen before you leap” law, she explained, directing “all federal agencies to work together to assess environmental and social impacts of proposed actions and to explore alternatives to avoid irreparable harm to natural and human resources, to avoid adverse and to enhance beneficial outcomes.
Wednesday’s announcement by the president, however, is being praised by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM).
“Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever to strengthen U.S. manufacturing capabilities and operations. Onshoring manufacturing requires first establishing basic infrastructure — from water and energy delivery to transportation — before ground can ever be broken on a major facility. Obtaining permits for these items can take years, especially when environmental reviews are piecemeal,” Rachel Jones, NAM’s vice president of energy and resources policy, said.
The “bold steps” announced today “utilize existing authority to strengthen reviews, reduce the time necessary to obtain permits and set the stage to incentivize job creation and investment in America,” she added.