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Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Aims to Speed Up and Even Sweep Away Environmental Reviews

Proposal would threaten endangered species and fragile habitats

By Oliver Milman

The Trump administration is attempting to speed up or even sweep away various environmental reviews in its plan to fix America’s crumbling infrastructure and construct a wall along the border with Mexico.

photo of roadworkPhoto by Oregon Department of Transportation The Trump Administration's plan seeks to speed up approval of roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects.

The White House’s infrastructure plan targets what it calls “inefficiencies” in the approval of roads, bridges, airports, and other projects. It proposes a 21-month limit for environmental reviews of projects that potentially threaten endangered species or fragile habitats, along with curbs on federal agencies’ ability to raise objections to new construction.

In a meeting with state and local officials on Monday, Trump said, “we’re going to get your permits very quickly.” The president, who mentioned he was able to push through the building of an ice rink in New York’s Central Park within a few months, said he will “speed the permit approval process from 10 years to two years, and maybe even to one year.”

The campaign to fast-track development over concerns has been picked up by Trump’s lieutenants. Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has attempted to quicken the pace even further, telling the same group that the EPA will “process every permit, up or down, within six months” by the end of 2018.

The administration has sought to completely cast aside environmental considerations when it comes to its controversial border wall. It recently acquired a waiver for the third time in order to speed construction of 20 miles of the wall in New Mexico, and Trump has rescinded an Obama-era rule that demanded officials consider sea level rise and other climate change factors in federally-funded projects.

Environmentalists have warned that Trump’s agenda will place extra pressure on endangered species and risk exacerbating hazards, such as flooding, by failing to factor climate change.

A recent report by the Center for Biological Diversity found that the border wall risks the habitat of dozens of species, including the arroyo toad, the Peninsular bighorn sheep, and the jaguar, which was once driven out of the south-western US but has been spotted again in recent years due to the northward migration from a group located around 100 miles south of the border in Sonora, Mexico.

A coalition of conservation groups said Americans are “overwhelmingly opposed” to any sidestepping of the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, or National Environmental Policy Act.

“President Trump’s dangerous proposal would hand out massive subsidies for wealthy developers to build roads and bridges without any regard to the impacts of hurricanes, fires, or rising seas,” the groups said in a joint statement.

“By rubber stamping permits for corporations to build oil pipelines, dams, and toxic waste dumps, gutting environmental and labor laws, and severely limiting the public’s ability to hold government accountable will only make our communities, and our nation, a more dangerous place.”

Meanwhile, the White House’s 2019 budget proposal has outlined slashing the Environmental Protection Agency’s funding by a third and cutting the department of the the interior’s budget by 16%. Congress has the ultimate say on the nation’s budget, however, and it is unlikely lawmakers will enact to such deep budget reductions.

The Guardian
The Guardian UK, one of Britain's top daily newspapers, provides coverage of international environmental issues. Earth Island Journal is a member of the Guardian's Environment News Network.

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