President says projects will still need to meet ‘environmental safeguards’, as he rolls back rules designed to limit flooding and sea level risks
As the world attempted to process the sight of a US president expressing sympathy for marchers at a neo-Nazi rally, Donald Trump yesterday unveiled a fresh executive order designed to minimise the extent to which infrastructure projects have to consider climate-related risks.
The order revokes an Obama-era executive order that required infrastructure projects to consider the impact of projected climate impacts during the planning stage. The order was intended to reduce US exposure to expected increases in sea level, droughts and floods over the coming century and was widely praised by green groups and many infrastructure experts.
However, Trump reversed the rules yesterday, arguing the move would streamline permitting processes in support of his plans for a $1tr infrastructure drive.
Speaking during a press conference at Trump Tower that descended into a series of arguments with the media over his response to the far right march in Charlottesville, Trump said the order would speed up the pace at which infrastructure is built while still protecting the environment.
“It’s going to be quick,” he said. “It’s going to be a very streamlined process. And by the way, if it doesn’t meet environmental safeguards, we’re not going to approve it – very simple.”
The new order will set a two-year deadline for completing permits for major infrastructure plans, and introduce a ‘one Federal decision’ protocol to ensure one agency leads the permitting process, even if other agencies are required for environmental reviews.
The move was praised by some business groups, who argued it would reduce costs for consumers. But it was roundly condemned by green groups, who argued it was just the latest move in the Trump administration’s attempt to roll back regulations that would tackle the climate risks the US faces.
Rafael Lemaitre, former director of public affairs at FEMA who worked on the Obama-era order, told news agency Reuters that Trump was undoing “the most significant action taken in a generation” to safeguard US infrastructure.
“Eliminating this requirement is self-defeating; we can either build smarter now, or put taxpayers on the hook to pay exponentially more when it floods. And it will,” he said.
The move came as the battle between the Trump administration and green businesses and environmental groups continues on a number of fronts.
This week it emerged in court filings that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intends to rewrite limits on toxic waste water releases from power plants, the agency said in a court filing this week.
Meanwhile, a number of environmental groups launched legal action against the EPA on Monday over new chemical safety regulations which they allege have been watered down.
On the same day The Sierra Club sued the Department of Energy (DOE) over its controversial study on the reliability of the US power grid, arguing it was being conducted in excessive “secrecy”.
Environmental groups fear the study, which was ordered by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, will be used to attack renewables and defend continued investment in fossil fuels, despite an early leaked draft indicating that declining power demand and competition from gas was the primary reason for the retirement of coal power plants.