The Dallas Morning News
In infrastructure bill, Trump wants regulations streamlined
Measures would shorten permitting times for projects
WASHINGTON — On infrastructure, President Donald Trump wants to offer a two-for-one deal.
The Trump administration intends to propose a package of tax breaks meant to help spur $1 trillion in new spending on roads, bridges and other construction over the next decade. But as part of that bill, Trump also wants to introduce measures to drastically shorten approval times for projects.
The strategy appears aimed at building support for an effort with little momentum in Congress. Democrats are critical of Trump’s focus on public-private partnerships, rather than more traditional funding, while many conservative Republicans have balked at the idea of a massive government investment.
Trump’s National Economic Council is crafting changes to the law to speed up the regulatory process, so that construction could start sooner and builders would find it easier to finance projects.
Trump and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao have played up the problem of regulatory hurdles for infrastructure.
“We’re going to try and take that process from a minimum of 10 years down to one year,” the president said at an event earlier this month. On Tuesday, the president hosted a gathering of business leaders to discuss infrastructure and regulations, among other subjects.
But the measures being considered for Trump’s infrastructure package would follow a series of streamlining efforts that began under President Barack Obama.
At the end of 2015, Obama signed a measure called the FAST Act. Its title stands for “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation.” In addition to providing funds for infrastructure through 2020, the law established the steering council that reviews the permitting process to ensure projects were reviewed in a timely manner. The law also put limits on the environmental reviews which in theory should shorten a process that could cause permitting to drag on well beyond five years.
Some business groups say the Obama-era law is working and they see little reason for an aggressive overhaul.
“You’ve got it down to a process that is 21⁄2 years,” said Bill Kovacs, a senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Kovacs said that it was uncertain as to how much more the government could shrink the timeline while still conducting reviews “to make sure there is no harm to the environment.”
The Business Roundtable, a trade association for CEOs, sent a letter last week to Gary Cohn, the president’s top economic adviser, saying Trump already had the authority under this law to cut permitting times for infrastructure but it had yet to be “fully implemented.”
While the reforms are not “perfect,” the group wrote, “if implemented aggressively, they may be able to deliver the timelines and certainty in the permitting process” that Trump seeks.