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President Donald Trump is expected to use his first State of the Union address to roll out his long-anticipated plan for infrastructure improvements, to hammer home successes in his year-old deregulatory agenda, and to highlight his goal of U.S. “energy dominance.”
Trump’s Jan. 30 speech to a joint session of Congress is expected to outline his administration’s goal to stimulate $1 trillion worth of investment in roads, bridges, airports, water works, natural gas pipelines, and other public infrastructure.
The plan proposes changing the way federal agencies conduct environmental reviews to speed up project permitting, according to a earlier leaked draft version of the proposal, which a White House official indicated could change.
The plan may ask Congress to place a cap on the amount of time and money agencies can spend on environmental reviews, which can take years to complete. It could also expand the government’s capacity for private companies to pay for the federal environmental reviews of their projects.
The final infrastructure plan is expected to be issued “one to two weeks” after the State of the Union address, DJ Gribbin, the White House’s top point person on infrastructure, said last week. But the White House told Bloomberg Environment that it has no timing estimates for the official release of the infrastructure plan.
In recent months, administration officials have said $200 billion in federal infrastructure funding could spur $800 billion in private investments, totaling $1 trillion in spending.
But the potential source of that federal funding isn’t clear.
“The general gist of the infrastructure plan to dangle federal money in exchange for local governments being more reliant on private financing for such projects is totally unacceptable,” Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program, told Bloomberg Environment.
Industry groups, however, are hoping Trump’s speech provides a signal the White House is moving toward a quicker, more centralized process for approving infrastructure projects.
Trump is not likely to get into the nuts and bolts of the infrastructure plan, but manufacturers are looking for “a strong sign of support for getting projects done, getting them done succinctly, and getting them done right the first time,” Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources policy at the National Association of Manufacturers, told Bloomberg Environment.
Broadly, the manufacturing group is looking for “one final federal action” on permitting decisions, rather than several processes and reviews at separate federal and state agencies, Eisenberg added.
“The permit reform component is certainly a crucial part of an infrastructure plan,” Christopher Guith, senior vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, told Bloomberg Environment. “The Chamber has been very clear that an infrastructure plan without it won’t get the job done.”
But environmental groups are raising alarms that quicker permitting will undercut reviews of projects’ environmental impacts.
“They’ll have an epic fight on their hands” if the administration targets environmental statutes like the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air Act, John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg Environment.
Trump is also expected to highlight progress in his administration’s goal of rolling back regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has begun to undo many Obama-era rules, including the Clean Water Rule, meant to clarify what water bodies and wetlands federal protection, and the Clean Power Plan, which set greenhouse gas emission limits for existing power plants. Both regulations drew staunch Republican and industry opposition, and both remain tied up in the courts.
“[W]e have undertaken the most extensive regulatory reduction ever conceived,” Trump told world leaders last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Trump also told the forum his administration has cut 22 rules for every one new regulation—which he said far exceeds the “two-for-one” goal set in his January 2017 executive order.
That figure, however, likely includes many rules that Trump took no specific action to undo, according to a Bloomberg analysis.
It’s unclear whether Trump will highlight specific environmental rollbacks in his speech. But Eisenberg said efforts to roll back and replace rules such as the Clean Water Rule and the Clean Power Plan have “made a real difference. We’ve seen increased production out of the energy space and manufacturers doing well, while emissions continue to trend downwards.”
Walke, though, said the administration has a long way to go before Obama-era rules are off the books.
“The truth is that this administration has talked a lot of deregulation and initiated a lot of deregulation, but they have fairly little actual deregulation to show for it so far,” he said.
Trump’s much-touted efforts to reverse what he called the Obama administration’s “war on coal,” and his plans to enable U.S. “energy dominance” by giving companies easier access to energy resources like natural gas, also could appear in the speech.
“We are lifting self-imposed restrictions on energy production to provide affordable power to our citizens and businesses, and to promote energy security for our friends all around the world,” Trump told the World Economic Forum.
This includes efforts by the administration to boost exports of liquefied natural gas to other countries, including Eastern Europe and Asia. His Interior Department has sought to open up U.S. waters to offshore oil and gas leasing.
However, the actual drilling potential may not be as clear. Florida’s governor, Rick Scott (R), has persuaded Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to remove his state’s waters from the list, though an Interior official said the state is still being formally considered. Other governors are seeking similar changes.
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