Last week, President Trump unveiled details on his forthcoming infrastructure plan. His vision is remarkably different from his predecessor's. The forthcoming transportation modernization plan from the administration would, among other things, leverage private sector capital and expertise for projects, foster innovation in transportation solutions, and launch a skill-based apprenticeship initiative.
One of the most important changes is cutting back the lengthy permit process. He is placing a priority on trimming the "dense thicket of rules, regulations and red tape" that developers face.
Navigating through lengthy and often duplicative environmental regulations means that completing projects costs more and takes longer. In a speech this past Friday, Trump noted that projects require as many as 16 different approvals, involve 10 different federal agencies, and are often governed by 26 different statutes.
State and local leaders are forced to pay tens of millions of dollars for environmental impact studies on a project and then have little to show for it, except for a mountain of paperwork. Permits for projects — such as the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline project — were held up for purely political reasons under the previous administration despite their merits.
"No longer can we allow these rules and regulations to tie down our economy, chain up our prosperity, and sap our great American spirit," Trump announced. "That is why we will lift these restrictions and unleash the full potential of the United States of America."
To accomplish this effort, Trump dedicated a new office in the Council of Environmental Quality — an important program housed in the White House that coordinates energy and environmental policies across federal agencies — to promote transparency and streamline processes. CEQ will be a one-stop shop to "root out inefficiency, clarify lines of authority, and streamline federal and state and local procedures so that communities can modernize their aging infrastructure without fear of outdated federal rules getting in their way." This is a great first step that will bring badly needed efficiencies that will save time and money.
Reining in regulatory overreach and making the federal government more efficient was a central message of Trump's 2016 campaign, and it's good to see him deliver on this important work once in office. This streamlining effort on infrastructure follows ongoing work at the Office of Management and Budget. Director Mick Mulvaney has led the charge in seeking ways to identify programs that should be eliminated, restructured, consolidated, or better coordinated across federal agencies. It also follows a series of executive orders providing structural reforms that Trump issued shortly after taking office. One put a moratorium on issuing new regulations; another directed federal agencies to implement a one-in, two-out cap on regulations.
As Congress crafts these policy principles into legislative text, policymakers should go even further. They should consider removing certain planning and analysis mandates from the project review process, such as those relating to the social cost of carbon emissions. An even greater benefit would be limiting the scope and application of National Environmental Policy Act reviews.
The president should be commended for seeking ways to save time and maximize scarce federal funds for infrastructure. Reining in overreaching environmental regulations will allow project leaders to focus time and money on developing more roads, bridges, and waterways that will benefit people across the country instead of mountains of paperwork.
Christine Harbin (@ChrissyHarbin) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She is vice president of external affairs for Americans for Prosperity.
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