On Monday, President Donald Trump held a meeting with state and local officials at the White House and tried to sell his newly released and skeptically received infrastructure plan by promising: “We’re going to get you the environmental and the transportation permits. We’ll get them for you so fast your head will spin.”
When reviewing the environmental impacts of major infrastructure projects that have lifetimes spanning decades, dizziness is not the gold standard we should be trying to meet.
The Trump administration’s head-spinning plan is simple: Gut or weaken environmental protections that get in the way of project developers’ bulldozers. In fact, the Trump plan would require significant changes to at least nine environmental laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Clean Air Act, and Clean Water Act.
Americans don’t want this. A poll of likely voters commissioned by the Center for American Progress and Defenders of Wildlife found that 94% of likely voters—including 92% of Trump voters—believe we can build and modernize America’s infrastructure while also maintaining environmental protections for air, water, wildlife, and natural places.
Americans want strong and durable bridges. But they also want the water that flows underneath them to be fishable and swimmable. The Trump infrastructure plan would reduce scrutiny of projects that would discharge pollution into the nation’s waterways. It also would undermine states’ power to object to projects that would pollute waterways or drain water resources within their borders.
Americans want roads without potholes and more transportation options, including public transit. But they also want to have a say in where those projects are built. The Trump plan would eviscerate the NEPA, the law that gives communities an opportunity to comment on proposed projects, identify potential risks, and ensure risks are mitigated if the project proceeds. Across the country, many low-income communities and communities of color are living with the repercussions of poor transportation planning decisions that divided or isolated communities and condemned them to lifetimes of dangerous air quality. Their voices should not be further silenced.
The plan also would lower the bar for compliance between transportation projects and national ambient air quality standards, effectively cutting a hole in an important safety net for communities that live and breathe near highways.
Americans also want to protect the country’s last wild places, including national parks. Trump’s plan for head-spinning permit times comes at a cost: perfunctory review, if any, of a project’s potential impacts on endangered species and their habitats. Trump’s plan even gives the secretary of the interior unilateral discretion to permit natural gas pipelines across National Park Service lands.
The Trump infrastructure plan isn’t about infrastructure at all. It is about finding any and every excuse to continue this administration’s all-out assault on the nation’s bedrock environmental laws for the benefit of their corporate benefactors.
If Trump and his team were serious about improving permission times, they would work to implement laws already on the books and ensure that the agencies involved with environmental review were fully funded. Over the past six years, Congress has enacted three major laws overhauling the environmental review process—but these laws haven’t been fully implemented yet. And instead of providing agencies with the staff and resources needed to expedite the environmental review process, Trump has proposed gutting budgets and slimming down staff.
In an article accompanying the release of the Trump infrastructure plan, Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, wrote: “A Nation’s infrastructure is a measure of its greatness.” If that is the case, then the richest and greatest nation on the planet should be able to rebuild and modernize America’s infrastructure without sacrificing the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the natural places we treasure.
Alison Cassady is the managing director of energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress.