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Trump promises ‘massive’ permitting overhaul

09 Jun 2017 19:10 (+01:00 GMT)
Trump promises ‘massive' permitting overhaul

Washington, 9 June (Argus) — President Donald Trump today promised to cut back on environmental reviews and permitting requirements he says have created a "failed system" that unnecessarily slows down infrastructure projects.

Trump has yet to say exactly what he wants to change in the federal permitting process but today vowed for "massive permit reform" that would pare down environmental reviews that frequently run thousands of pages.

Trump's remarks come as he asks the US Congress to provide $200bn for infrastructure plan that remains thin on specifics. US transportation secretary Elaine Chao has said the plan is likely to include roads, bridges, railways and energy projects, but the administration has so far only issued a broad outline that seeks $1 trillion in overall infrastructure investments.

Trump in a speech today said he would eliminate redundancy in the permitting process and roll back rules and regulations that "chain up our prosperity and sap our great American spirit." But he reserved much of his criticism for environmental reviews needed for infrastructure projects and the consultants that prepare them.

Trump offered the example of an unidentified 18-mile (29km) road in Maryland that he said needed hundreds of pages of environmental reviews that cost $29mn to prepare. Those reviews could be replaced by a "few simple pages," he said, and result in better outcomes by avoiding unnecessary costs. Trump complained further about a bridge that resulted in a 150,000 page administrative record.

"Why should we continue to accept what is so clearly unacceptable, often for consultants who are making a fortune," Trump said in a speech at the US Department of Transportation.

Many federal environmental reviews are governed by the National Environmental Policy Act, which directs federal agencies to take a "hard look" at environmental impacts before approving major projects. States, cities and energy companies often spend millions of dollars to complete the studies used in those reviews, which consider ways to minimize environmental damage.

Trump has not specifically called for limiting the length of environmental reviews, but doing so without changing the underlying statute has risks. Environmentalists often challenge reviews for omitting key details or analysis, so requiring regulators to scale back those reviews could make their decisions more vulnerable in court.