Trump Previews Infrastructure ‘Fix,’ Touts Energy Boom

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By Abby Smith

President Donald Trump, in his first State of the Union address, previewed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan that would speed project permitting and approval processes.

Trump also touted his administration’s deregulatory push as a boon to the energy industry—though he didn’t mention any specific regulatory rollbacks.

Beyond roads and bridges, the administration’s infrastructure plan is expected to touch on funding for drinking water systems and cleanup of contaminated Superfund sites—though Trump didn’t mention those issues specifically in his address. In his Jan. 30 speech, Trump urged Congress to reach a deal to provide the public with reliable infrastructure.

“Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment—to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit,” Trump said.

Trump’s infrastructure pledge drew criticism from Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, indicating a split over how much the federal government should fund infrastructure.

“President Trump is saying he has a $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan. He actually has an infrastructure plan with only $200 billion in federal funding over 10 years,” Pallone said in a tweet after the speech. “He expects states, localities, and the private sector to come up with $1.3 trillion on their own.”

Trump Calls for Faster Permitting

Trump outlined his infrastructure plan in broad strokes, without touching on policy specifics, but suggested the administration is working to incorporate some industry requests.

For example, industry wants any infrastructure package to include changes to speed project permitting. In particular, industry and manufacturing groups are looking for “one final federal action” on permitting decisions—consolidating approval authority to one lead federal agency.

“Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process—getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one,” Trump said.

Trump, in his speech, criticized the amount of time it currently takes to get infrastructure projects off the ground.

“We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a minor permit approved for the building of a simple road?” Trump said.

Republican lawmakers cheered Trump’s infrastructure push.

“America’s roads, bridges, dams, highways, and ports are crucial to the nation’s success,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement. “We need a robust, fiscally responsible infrastructure bill that makes it easier to start and finish projects more quickly.”

Environmental groups, however, fear the administration’s push for quicker permitting signals further rollbacks—including undercutting reviews of projects’ environmental impacts.

How Much Federal Money?

Trump also didn’t specify where the federal dollars for the infrastructure plan would come from.

Some Democrats in the chamber questioned “Where’s the money?”, loud enough to be heard by reporters watching the speech in a gallery above the House floor, as Trump discussed his infrastructure plan.

Administration officials have said they will leave those decisions up to lawmakers.

“We are open to ideas to come up with ‘pay fors,’ but we will not start there,” DJ Gribbin, a special assistant to President Donald Trump for infrastructure policy, told a recent meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Gribbin told the mayors, however, that the White House wouldn’t support cuts to core infrastructure programs that already exist, such as the Transportation Department’s highway trust fund or the Environmental Protection Agency’s state revolving loan funds.

Coal-state Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin (W. Va.), expressed initial support for Trump’s broad vision for an infrastructure plan. He told reporters he’ll have to see “where the money’s coming from and how [Trump] intends to pay for” the infrastructure plan, “but it sounds good.”

Regulatory Cuts Touted

Trump also touted his deregulatory agenda, saying his administration has “eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in the history of our country.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, in a statement released after the speech, said the agency is implementing Trump’s agenda to protect the environment and grow the economy.

Pruitt highlighted the EPA’s effort to repeal the Clean Power Plan regulation to limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and the Waters of the U.S. rule that defined what waterways fall under federal jurisdiction. However, the process of rescinding those Obama-era regulations is not complete and will be the target of legal challenges.

In particular, Trump pointed broadly to the efforts his administration took to free up energy production.

“We have ended the war on American energy — and we have ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” Trump said. “We are now very proudly an exporter of energy to the world.”

Democrats noted that Trump’s first State of the Union had a missing element: climate change. The president boasted of energy production, but didn’t mention the need to switch to clean and renewable energy, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), told reporters.

Trump has “chained himself to a highly polluting process that is damaging rural America,” Merkley said. “It’s damaging our forests, it’s damaging our farming, and it’s damaging our fishing. So he’s certainly hurting a lot of people.”

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