Though President Donald Trump used his press conference on August 15 to make it clear what he thinks of Charlottesville and what he dubbed the “alt-left,” the stated purpose of his speech was to announce how he is planning to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure.
On Tuesday, the president signed an executive order to improve what he called the country’s “badly broken” infrastructure, which he likened to what could be found in a “third world country.” The order calls for a $1 trillion revitalization package, though no legislation currently exists for this upgrade.
The order is intended to eliminate and streamline some of the permitting regulations needed to construct federally-funded roads, bridges, pipelines and other infrastructure. Per The New York Times, “Mr. Trump unveiled a head-to-toe-length flow chart purporting to show the permitting regulations required to build a highway in a state he would not name that he claimed took 17 years.” The president said that under his new executive order, it would take less than two years.
In order to shorten the completion time for this and other structures, Trump’s order will reverse a number of regulations put into place during former President Barack Obama’s time in office. This includes a rollback of the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, which was established by executive order in 2015. It requires the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure. Bridges, schools, hospitals and police and fire stations are some of the structures covered by this rule.
The New York Times explains the Obama flood-proof rule:
The Obama-era rule gave federal agencies three options to flood-proof new infrastructure projects. They could use the best available climate change science; they could require that standard projects like roads and railways be built two feet above the national 100-year flood elevation standard and critical buildings like hospitals be built three feet higher; or they could require infrastructure to be built to at least the 500-year flood plain. The order did not regulate private development.
Mother Jones reports that before this executive order, federal agencies typically relied on historical data to predict if infrastructure was vulnerable to flooding. This did not take into account future projections on climate change and rising sea levels. As a result, FEMA estimates put U.S. federal spending for flooding damages at $260 billion from 1980 to 2013. Many supporters of the Obama rule believed it would save taxpayers money that they would have spent fixing flooded structures; others heralded it for saving lives.
Under Trump’s executive order, the president aims to streamline the process through regulatory reform—which will benefit the oil and gas industry, as more permits will be granted for their projects. Critics fear it will make coastal communities more vulnerable to flooding. As Colorlines has previously reported, people of color account for approximately 26 percent of the population in the nation’s coastal counties.
“With this directive, Donald Trump is actively wasting taxpayer dollars, endangering schools and hospitals, and threatening the lives of people around the country for no other reason than his apparent contempt for the public and his commitment to the agenda of corporate polluters,” Sierra Club director Michael Brune said in a statement. “This is climate science denial at its most dangerous, 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. Florida Representative Carlos Curbelo, whose Miami-Dade County constituents live in a coastal community, said in a statement to the press, “This executive order is not fiscally conservative. It’s irresponsible and it will lead to taxpayer dollars being wasted on projects that may not be built to endure the flooding we are already seeing and know is only going to get worse.”
The order will also speed up the permit process for pipeline construction, reports the Washington Examiner. The president wants to institute what he called a “one federal decision policy.” This means that one federal agency will take the lead in overseeing the environmental review process required to approve permits for projects such as pipelines. In addition, says the Times, “all decisions on federal permits will have to be made within 90 days, and agencies will have a two-year goal to process environmental reviews for major projects.” The president did not state which agency would be given this power.