Trump's Plan to Eliminate Red Tape on Infrastructure Projects Not What it Seems
In a move that reeks of desperation – as the President is finally realizing that even his own party is abandoning him on key policy matters – on August 16, Trump announced sweeping changes to process and policy that he claims will accelerate infrastructure projects across the United States. But, at the same time, his proposed budget would cut infrastructure funding.
Having made many promises to do something about the much-needed work on the bridges, roads and railways that make up the country’s critical transportation infrastructure, Trump has finally made his move – or at least that is what he wants his supporters to think. In typical Trump fashion, it was quick and not completely thought through – though perhaps for once his heart was in the right place: He acknowledged that red tape in the regulatory environment is a major reason why major government regulations take so long to be complied with.
The purported main intent of Trump’s new policy is to streamline what the President considers to be the red tape of the permit process.
• Step 1 of that policy is to require what Trump calls a “one federal decision policy.” This allows for one federal agency to oversee environmental and any other decisions related to specific infrastructure projects, with consultation from others but without requiring any other agency’s sign-off. This is a positive, with single-agency leadership being empowered to make things happen. There are a few issues that will need to be worked out as it is implemented, since there are existing laws in place that require some agencies to do an analysis and regulate the specifics of various projects. One such specific is that the Environmental Protection Agency has a legal mandate to evaluate the environmental impact of work that could cause environmental harm to endangered species or to the public.
• Step 2 of the policy is to eliminate the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard for building infrastructure. That standard, put in place by former
president Barack Obama as a 2015 Executive Order, requires federal regulators to account for climate-change concerns and sea-level rise as part of the infrastructure approval process for public projects. Instead of being a drag on the process, by requiring months or even years of work to complete that analysis, the standard allows for one of three options to be used. Option (a) is to use the best available climate-change science and models to estimate what should be done for a specific project. Option (b) is to require that roads and railways be constructed two feet above the national 100-year flood elevation standard, with certain critical structures, like hospitals, to be built three feet higher. Simpler still is option (c), which allows infrastructure to be built to support the estimated 500year floodplain rules.
Eliminating all three options would seem stronger than necessary to deal with what Trump and his team likely saw as yet another potential source of delay. It is instead far more likely that the White House felt that anything that includes the “climate change” warning needs to be dropped from the lexicon. One can hope that there was no intent, as a number of critics have alleged, to allow new roads, bridges, railways, hospitals and other critical structures to be built in areas that either are or will likely become floodplains in the near or intermediate future. With many eyes still focused on the project review process, sound minds would likely use considerations not unlike those that were included in the 2015 Executive Order but without naming that which the White House would not like to name “climate change.” If that careful consideration is done, then the empowerment of individual agencies and the elimination of the formality of the floodplain rule might achieve what Trump claims to be trying to do: speed up the process for implementing new infrastructure projects at the federal level.
One should consider that America’s infrastructure problems are not so much about not being able to construct new projects (due to a complex and lengthy permit process) but about a simple lack of funding to maintain the existing infrastructure. Repairing a bridge, repaving a road or rehabilitating a deteriorated sewer line is only a matter of funding – not about getting past red tape.
As Trump has pointed out in the past, America seems more than willing to spend trillions of dollars waging senseless wars abroad but can’t seem to find the money to repair its own infrastructure at home. The reason for this is that it is much easier for money to be stolen from the military, where there is much less oversight. The Pentagon already refuses to account for $10 trillion in taxpayers’ money, and this lack of accountability has not improved since Trump assumed power. If anything, Trump has made it worse by increasing the military’s budget without imposing greater accountability.
Instead of diverting attention away from the real issues with ineffective measures, now would be a good time to face reality and stop trying to support a crumbling empire on borrowed money. Bring the troops home, close some of the 1,000 bases and put some of that $1 trillion a year military budget to work on making America great again.