Trump's Changes in Infrastructure Approvals

Increasing investment in U.S. infrastructure was a key tenet of President Trump’s campaign platform. His 2018 budget request calls for $200 billion in direct federal spending on infrastructure. That federal capital infusion is expected to serve as tinder for private-sector investment, generating $1 trillion.

The Trump administration has said it plans to release a legislative package by this fall to meet the president’s pledge to invest $1 trillion to upgrade U.S. infrastructure. The White House signaled it wants to allocate $200 billion in federal dollars throughout 10 years to pay for large-scale and rural projects and to induce states, localities, and the private sector to spend $800 billion.

The administration hopes to get a tax overhaul through Congress by Thanksgiving and plans to put an infrastructure bill in the House as soon as a tax measure moves from the House to the Senate.

Trump approved an earlier executive order just four days after taking office to expedite environmental reviews and approvals for high-priority infrastructure projects, and White House officials in March convened a working group of federal agencies to identify policies, regulations, and statutes that hinder project approvals.

The president also announced on June 9 during the White House’s “infrastructure week’’ that he was creating a council that already exists, the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council. Moves by the administration to create a list of projects deemed to be of national importance, along with the retooling of the FASTLANE (now INFRA) program to prioritize small, rural projects and those getting private or non-federal investment point to the president’s priorities in a national rebuilding program. Trump has formed a task force to oversee his infrastructure plan.

Trump recently signed the second executive order aimed at streamlining infrastructure projects. The order calls for the federal permitting and approvals process for new major infrastructure projects to be reduced to roughly two years, and for a single federal agency to take the lead in providing oversight for each of such projects.

In addition, a highway project can require up to 16 approvals by nine agencies governed by 29 different laws, but his plan would require a single agency to take the lead and set a goal of a coordinated final decision within two years.

Democrats have urged the administration to focus on the streamlining provisions that have already been approved, but not yet fully implemented and said the problem is really a lack of direct federal spending for projects.

It also allows the Office of Management and Budget to establish goals for environmental reviews and permitting of infrastructure projects and then track their progress, with automatic elevation to senior agency officials when deadlines are missed or extended, according to the order.

The order calls for tracking the time and costs of conducting environmental reviews and making permitting decisions, and it allows the budget office to consider penalties for agencies that fail to meet established milestones.

White House officials confirmed Trump’s order includes revoking an Obama administration executive order requiring that builders take sea level rise driven by climate change into account when constructing projects in flood plains.

Because the federal government owns less than 10 percent of U.S. infrastructure, the Trump administration has focused on efforts to accelerate environmental reviews and permitting for projects that can take years and create unpredictability for investors. This new order will speed up project approvals and will be a step toward more infrastructure improvements in the country.

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