Trump Pushes Infrastructure Development in Series of Speeches

June 9, 2017

President Trump held several events this week to emphasize his infrastructure agenda – but while a few additional details were released, the plan is still frustratingly vague.

Trump gave a speech in Cincinnati on June 7 that was supposed to be about the need to upgrade inland waterway infrastructure but meandered quite a bit into more political areas. However, the White House did release another bullet point fact sheet on the infrastructure proposal,

The White House declined to make a transcript of Trump’s Cincinnati speech available (perhaps because of its more political nature) but did release a video of the speech, augmented by a variety of helpful infographics to impart key parts of the bill to the Vox generation.

Included therein was this doozy:

Apparently, half of the $200 billion in federal infrastructure funding to be provided by the legislation would go towards “local prioritization of infrastructure needs,” whatever that is. The infographic also suggests that $25 billion would go towards rural infrastructure projects and $15 billion would go towards big-ticket “transformative projects,” but it does not say whether or not the $25 billion and the $15 billion would be a subset of the $100 billion or in addition to it. (Ed. Note: Does CBO score infographics?)

On June 8, the White House held an infrastructure summit meeting of governors and mayors. Vice President Pence gave a speech reiterating the talking points.

(Pence also gave a home-state shout-out to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R), who replaced Pence in January and who, three months later, signed into law a 10 cent per gallon gasoline tax increase that Pence had blocked for eight years.)

Trump then gave brief remarks to the governors and mayors when he got back to DC, pointing out Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) and his signature public-private partnership project on Interstate 4.

Finally, Trump visited the Department of Transportation on Friday morning to talk permitting reform. In her introduction, Transportation Secretary Chao emphasized that DOT has created a task force to work with states and localities on better ways to proceed with streamlining, and noted that earlier in the week DOT issued a notice in the Federal Register asking the public to help DOT in “identifying requirements that the Department imposes through rules, or interpretations found in policy statements or guidance documents, that unjustifiably delay or prevent completion of surface, maritime, and aviation transportation infrastructure projects.”

In his speech, Trump emphasized the need to deliver project permitting documents more quickly: “Instead of rebuilding our country, Washington has spent decades building a dense thicket of rules, regulations and red tape. It took only four years to build the Golden Gate Bridge, and five years to build the Hoover Dam, and less than one year to build the Empire State Building. People don’t believe that. Took less than one year. But today, it can take 10 years and far more than that just to get the approvals and permits needed to build a major infrastructure project.”

He cited a road in Maryland (presumably the Inter County Connector) that, he said, “spent $29 million for an environmental report weighing 70 pounds, and costing $24,000 per page.” He then walked to a side table, picked up several three-ring binders of summary EIS documents, made a point of leafing through the, then cast them to the floor.

He also mentioned the new bridge over the Ohio River, which “amassed a 150,000-page administrative record. One hundred and fifty thousand pages is a five-story-tall building. Think of it. If you put the paper together, it’s a five-story building…Why should we continue to accept what is so clearly unacceptable, oftentimes for consultants that are making a fortune because you can’t do anything without hiring them, paying them a tremendous amount of money, having them write up this nonsense?”

When it came to specifics, Trump said:

…we are setting up a new council to help project managers navigate the bureaucratic maze. This council will also improve transparency by creating a new online dashboard allowing everyone to easily track major projects through every stage of the approval process.

This council will make sure that every federal agency that is consistently delaying projects by missing deadlines will face tough new penalties. I know it won’t happen with these two. We don’t have to worry about them.

We will hold the bureaucracy accountable.

This council sounds suspiciously like the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council established by section 41002 of the FAST Act of 2015.

The President also said that he was establishing a “new office in the Council of Environmental Quality to root out inefficiency, clarify lines of authority, and streamline federal and state local procedures so that communities can modernize their aging infrastructure without fear of outdated federal rules getting in their way.” This changes the mission of the CEQ somewhat. (Staffing this office properly will be critical.)

Trump did say that “this massive permit reform – and that’s what it is, it’s a permit reform – doesn’t sound glamorous, they won’t write stories about it, they won’t even talk about it, but it’s so important.

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