26 january 2018

White House plan would reduce environmental requirements for infrastructure projects

By Juliet Eilperin and Michael Laris, The Washington Post, January 26, 2018

The White House has drafted a proposal to scale back environmental requirements in an effort to make it easier to construct roads, bridges and pipelines across the country as part of an infrastructure plan that President Trump could release as soon as next week, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post.

The plan would change things such as how officials decide a pipeline route, how a proposed border wall with Mexico would be built and whether the National Park Service could object to a development that would impair tourists’ views from scenic parks such as the Grand Canyon.

Administration officials — who have briefed GOP lawmakers, trade associations and other groups about their plans — have emphasized they are willing to alter elements of the legislative package to win enough votes to pass it in the Senate. But they have made it clear they are seeking the most sweeping changes in decades to how the federal government approves and oversees infrastructure projects.

“We have no intention of eroding environmental protections,” Alex Herrgott, associate director of infrastructure at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said when he addressed the Transportation Research Board’s annual conference this month. “However, there is no denying that there is duplication and redundancy in the process that is worth taking a hard look at.”

A White House official on Friday described the document as an earlier “discussion draft.” But individuals familiar with the plan said many of the proposals are still the basis for negotiations with lawmakers.
How Trump is rolling back Obama’s legacy View Graphic

“Smarter regulation doesn’t mean that we are abandoning our responsibility to the environment,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing internal deliberations.

Trump identified an infrastructure bill as a top priority for his first 100 days in office, but it was delayed while he focused on bruising legislative battles over health care and tax cuts. Aides say the president will pitch his plan during next week’s State of the Union address and flesh out the details shortly afterward.

Critics of the administration said the proposal outlined in the document would gut key environmental protections in laws dating to the 1970s, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

“The administration’s legislative outline for infrastructure sacrifices clean air, water, the expertise of career agency staff and bedrock environmental laws,” Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the nonprofit National Parks Conservation Association, said in an email. “In short, the proposal reveals that this administration is not serious about restoring America’s infrastructure.”


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