Trump Changes Regulatory Rules on Infrastructure, U.S. Waiting on Trillion Dollar Roadworks Plan
President Trump announced on Tuesday that he had signed an executive order to eliminate and streamline Obama-era regulations that might hinder the construction of U.S. roads and bridges. Absent, however, was any legislation regarding previous promises of allocating a trillion dollars revitalize the nation’s infrastructure.
While the press conference was mired by the weekend’s violence in Charlottesville, the topic eventually returned to roadworks and the aforementioned funding. “We will end up getting health care, but we’ll get the infrastructure, and actually infrastructure is something that I think we’ll have bipartisan support on,” Trump told reporters. “I actually think Democrats will go along with the infrastructure.”
Backed by Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Trump presented the media with a flow chart purporting to show the permitting regulations required to construct a highway in an unnamed state he claimed took 17 years under existing regulations.
“This is what we will bring it down to — this is less than two years,” the president said, as he unveiled a smaller chart representing the new process. “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.”
According to Reuters, various business groups praised the regulatory streamlining, while environmental groups criticized the executive order — claiming it would lead to riskier projects, unsafe conditions, waste taxpayer dollars, and result in a “climate catastrophe.”
“It’s going to be quick. It’s going to be a very streamlined process. And by the way, if it doesn’t meet environmental safeguards, we’re not going to approve it, very simple,” Trump said at a press conference at Trump Tower in New York.
The National Association of Home Builders approved the Trump administration’s move, saying the laundry-list of rules had raised the cost of housing. The American Petroleum Institute also praised the decision, and released a statement suggesting the order reflects recommendations the oil-industry lobby group submitted to the Commerce Department back in March.
Likewise, Representative Ralph Abraham of Louisiana, a Republican who sponsored legislation that would have blocked President Obama’s flood standard, said he was pleased by Mr. Trump’s decision.“We had more than our share of tragedy down here with the water, but we already have problems meeting requirements,” Mr. Abraham told The New York Times. “The [Obama-era] plan would make it so costly for my Louisiana residents.”
He estimated the rule would have increased the cost of a home by 25 percent to 30 percent in Louisiana because most of the state would be put in a federal flood plain. The same would be true of any roadways or rail-networks.
The Obama administration had previously estimated that its more stringent standards would increase construction costs by 0.25 percent to 1.25 percent and not pertain to private contracts. However, the rule would affect states differently — as lower elevations would be affected more often.
Environmental groups are concerned the order would silence communities with safety and ecological concerns about major projects works projects, especially oil pipelines. “If Trump has his way, we’ll be facing a fossil fuel buildout that locks America into climate catastrophe,” said Janet Redman, U.S. Policy Director at Oil Change International.
The executive order rolls back numerous standards set by former President Barack Obama that requires the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure.
“The Trump administration’s decision to overturn this is a disaster for taxpayers and the environment,” said Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington. Lehrer described the Obama order as a common-sense measure to prevent taxpayer money from being wasted on projects threatened by flooding. Rafael Lemaitre, former director of public affairs at FEMA, issued similar comments following Trump’s press conference.
The White House has responded to those allegations by explaining the new order reinstated the previous flood management standard, issued by President Jimmy Carter, and did not prohibit any state or local agencies from using more stringent standards if they chose to.
The order would set a two-year goal for completing permits needed on major infrastructure plans, and create a “one Federal decision” protocol that would appoint a lead federal agency to work with other agencies to complete the environmental reviews and permitting for infrastructure projects.
“We used to have the greatest infrastructure anywhere in the world, and today we’re like a third-world country,” Trump said on Tuesday. “No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay.”
Ending the conference, the administration proposed $200 billion in government funding over 10 years as part of a goal of getting $1 trillion in public and private infrastructure spending.
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"He estimated the rule would have increased the cost of a home by 25 percent to 30 percent in Louisiana because most of the state would be put in a federal flood plain." If we keep Louisiana out of the "federal flood plain", it won't flood, right? Money saved!
I design buildings and my wife designs bridges, so I thought I'd clarify a few things. Projects have to look at an appropriate storm depending on how critical they are - a house might get designed to stay above water in a 100-year storm, but a hospital for, say, a 500-year storm. But we've also been adding sea level rise on top of that number. If your project has a 50-year design life, add a few inches to the height of the first floor. (Of course, most things meant to last 50 years will probably get used for 100.) That's one rule that will no longer be mandatory at the federal level. A lot of engineers will continue to follow it though, because the liability is on us once we stamp the design and we tend not to be risk-takers just because we want something to not be true. More importantly, this doesn't add much time to the design process. If you're in Florida or Louisiana, it can definitely add cost, but you'll save it on the back end unless physics and chemistry turn out to be wrong. In buildings, the real time-waster is that neighbors can use the environmental review process to shut down a project because they don't like the clientele it will attract, or the aesthetics of the building, etc. Cities around here are starting to consider changes to how that works because it's as limiting as it sounds. In infrastructure projects, you have that too, but even worse because these projects tend to be geographically long and can piss off tens of thousands of people in multiple cities. You also have genuine environmental issues, some of which clash (e.g. wind power's good if you're worried about climate change, but bad for animal lovers). Sometimes those environmental issues are big money, like when they'd hurt fisheries. And then there's the slow process of using eminent domain to buy property for expanding a road in a built-up area. And there aren't many areas that aren't built-up. It's also a pain the ass to work with a railroad company when you need to build a road overpass across a railway. There are so many players involved, many of whom are annoyed and don't have any reason to be helpful, that it's hard to speed things up. I'm all for trying, though.