Trump signs executive order aimed at boosting infrastructure projects

Henry Romero  Reuters
A woman rides her bicycle through a flooded street after Hurricane Matthew near Jacksonville Beach Florida Oct. 8 2016

Environmental groups and even some conservatives denounced the regulatory rollback on Tuesday.

"This overregulated permitting process is a massive, self-inflicted wound on our country", Trump said standing at a podium in Trump Tower in New York City.

The executive order was meant to protect taxpayer dollars spent on projects in areas prone to flooding and to improve "climate resilience" across the USA - that is, communities' ability to cope with the consequences of global warming.

Among other things, the president's order will rescind a previous decree signed by former President Barack Obama that required federal agencies to account for flood risk and climate change when paying for roads, bridges or other structures.

In addition to speeding federal decision, the executive order does away with requirements, put in place by President Obama, that required the government to consider climate change when making decisions. But a Treasury Department report released earlier this year found that "a lack of public funding is by far the most common factor hindering completion of major transportation and water infrastructure projects".

The standards were set as part of a national policy to anticipate the stronger storms and rise in sea levels that have been projected to occur as the consequences of climate change continue to grow more devastating.

US officials have estimated the United States suffered $260 billion in flood related damages between 1980 and 2013.

Obama's order required all federal agencies to apply risk-management standards to public infrastructure projects, but did not regulate private development. More than 90 USA communities are already grappling "unmanageable" flooding that is disrupting "people's routines, livelihoods, homes, and communities".

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune added that Trump's plan not only wastes taxpayer money, but puts people in danger. "This is climate science denial at its most unsafe, as Trump is putting vulnerable communities, federal employees, and families at risk by throwing out any guarantee that our infrastructure will be safe".

A number of Republican elected officials are also unhappy with the move. Supporters of infrastructure reform are hoping that the executive order will prove to be a significant first step. Rail and road systems are visibly in trouble, but the privately-managed freight network got the highest grade the ASCE gave (B) and state highways paid by dedicated user taxes and user fees seem in better condition compared to other transportation infrastructure more dependent on appropriations. USDOT says the policy of "One Federal Decision" will make the federal government speak with one voice regarding the environmental review and permitting of a major infrastructure project. In addition, the order introduces the concept of "One Federal Decision" for major infrastructure projects, requiring each project to have a lead federal agency responsible for "navigating the project through the Federal environmental review and authorization process". The president did not state which agency would be given this power.

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