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June 8, 2020 1:30 PM, EDT

Trump’s Executive Order Seeks to Advance Major Infrastructure Projects

bridge construction Michigan Work continues on a bridge on I-75 in Troy, Mich. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

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An executive order to expedite the permitting process for big-ticket infrastructure projects that President Donald Trump signed recently is meant to assist the economy during the pandemic.

“The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis,” according to the order, signed June 4.

Under the order, the transportation secretary is directed to proceed with authorized and appropriated highway and infrastructure projects through relevant emergency and other guidelines expediting the process.

Gov-NEPA-0615-eu-PW by Transport Topics on Scribd

The transportation secretary also will be required to provide offices at the White House a report that summarizes its actions under the order, followed by a report detailing the status of the projects.

Additionally, the order directs the departments of Agriculture, Interior and Defense, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed swiftly with permitting guidelines under various environmental protection laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act.

Additionally, the Council on Environmental Quality will be available to provide agencies guidance regarding its National Environmental Policy Act’s emergency regulations. Emergency authorities outlined in environmental statutes will serve as road maps for waiving certain environmental reviews for projects such as pipelines and highways.

Tom Carper

This executive order will fast-track projects that could tear through communities, harm air quality, endanger drinking water sources, destroy critical habitats and threaten endangered species.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del)

During the Trump administration, the Council on Environmental Quality proposed a one-federal-decision approach to the environmental permitting rules.

“Antiquated regulations and bureaucratic practices have hindered American infrastructure investments, kept America’s building trades workers from working, and prevented our citizens from developing and enjoying the benefits of world-class infrastructure,” the order stated.

“The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis. Unnecessary regulatory delays will deny our citizens opportunities for jobs and economic security, keeping millions of Americans out of work and hindering our economic recovery from the national emergency,” the order continued.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders on the transportation panels criticized the president’s action. The policymakers repeatedly have insisted enhancing environmental rules would benefit communities.

“By allowing projects to plow ahead without public engagement or input, this executive order will fast-track projects that could tear through communities, harm air quality, endanger drinking water sources, destroy critical habitats and threaten endangered species,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del), ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. “Under the guise of immediate relief, this executive action will cause long-term damage that will not be easily undone.”

“The laws President Trump seeks to waive are critical to making sure the public is well-informed and part of the decision-making process when it comes to how federal decisions and projects may impact the environment,” added Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.). “Removing review processes will not be the magic cure to our nation’s economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Several prominent Republicans on the transportation committees have applauded the administration’s efforts to expedite aspects of the environmental review process for certain infrastructure projects.

Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member on the transportation panel, noted soon after the order’s signing, “Fixing America’s infrastructure can provide our economy, distressed by the pandemic, with a desperately needed shot in the arm, and I appreciate the president’s actions across federal departments and agencies to responsibly cut red tape for projects that can help rebuild our workforce, rebuild our economy and rebuild our country.

“Time is money, so eliminating delays that hold up or kill projects will have the same impact as increasing funding, and it will let workers get back on the job improving our infrastructure.”

Over the years, various infrastructure funding proponents have called on the administration and Congress to grant exemptions and flexibility regarding certain parts of the permitting process for construction projects.

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