Tag Archive for 'President Trump'

Tom Ewing’s Environmental Update

*  On April 2 USDA and EPA kicked off “Winning on Reducing Food Waste Month.”  Unbelievably, in the US, more than one-third of all available food goes uneaten through loss or waste!  One third!   Food is the single largest type of waste in daily trash.  On April 1 President Trump issued a Presidential Message addressing food waste.  Next week EPA will host an event that will announce additional joint agency actions to reduce food waste, including ways for localities and states to become more active on this set of issues.  The agencies are asking for corporate and business leaders to join their peers who have already made a public commitment to reducing food loss and waste in their U.S. operations by 50 percent by the year 2030.
*  In March I referenced a major deep-water port project getting started in Texas.  An interesting comment came in last week by an affected property owner first claiming lax notification for people directly impacted.  But that was small potatoes compared to her subsequent comments.  She wrote that it seems unbelievable that such a project could even be considered, much less proposed, “given all the warnings recent events have shown (about?) the hazards of similar projects.”  (Seems she left out a word…)  But her sentiment is clear:  Fears from the recent Houston storage tank fire.  A submerged leak in the Louisiana Gulf.  The proximity to wildlife preserves.  “Can you not imagine,” she writes to MARAD, “the impact when 28 miles of underwater line is involved was a leak to occur, to say nothing of the impact of installation? Is there no ‘saturation point’ for potential pollution and Gulf disruption for this area?”  Hmmmm….
*  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposes to establish a “nonessential experimental population” (NEP) of the California condor in the Pacific Northwest.  An NEP could facilitate reintroduction of California condors to the region and provide for “allowable legal incidental taking of the California condor” within a defined NEP area. “Take” or “taking” is the official word for, uh, killing – not casually, of course, but unavoidable deaths associated with otherwise legal activities that can proceed only if project managers have done everything possible to avoid situations in which a “take” might occur.  The NEP would include northern California, northwest Nevada, and Oregon. FWS writes that “the best available data indicate that reintroduction of the California condor into the Pacific Northwest is biologically feasible and will promote the conservation of the species.”  Regulatory restrictions are considerably reduced under an NEP designation.  However, FWS explains that regulatory flexibility can make a reintroduction process more palatable to apprehensive stakeholders. “We have seen stronger support for conservation efforts when stakeholders are involved and have a voice in the process.”  Comments are due by June 4.
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AEM Encouraged by Trilateral Trade Agreement

Association of Equipment Manufacturers (AEM) President Dennis Slater issued the following statement today about the announced United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
“The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is a step in the right direction,” said Dennis Slater, President of AEM. “Trade agreements provide better access to customers across the globe and help us add to the 1.3 million jobs our industry supports in the United States. We urge this administration to continue working closely with the Canadian and Mexican governments to enact policies that promote continued economic growth for our industry.”
Nearly 30 percent of all equipment produced in the U.S. is intended for export and Canada and Mexico are the first and second-largest export markets for both U.S. construction and agricultural equipment. Since the creation of NAFTA two decades ago, the equipment manufacturing industry has benefited greatly from duty-free access to our industry’s largest two export markets, Canada and Mexico.
AEM is the North American-based international trade group representing off-road equipment manufacturers and suppliers, with more than 1,000 companies and more than 200 product lines in the agriculture and construction-related industry sectors worldwide. The equipment manufacturing industry in the United States supports 1.3 million jobs and contributes roughly $159 billion to the economy every year.

President Trump Is Cutting Red Tape On Infrastructure Projects

President Trump Is Cutting Red Tape On Infrastructure Projects

IMPROVING ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS:  President Trump’s Administration is working together to improve and streamline environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects.

  • Federal agencies are signing the One Federal Decision Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), establishing a coordinated and timely process for environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects.
  • The signatories of the MOU have agreed to an unprecedented level of collaboration in the environmental review process and include the:
    • Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, Energy, and Homeland Security
    • Environmental Protection Agency
    • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
    • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
    • Advisory Council on Historic Preservation
    • Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council
  • One lead Federal agency will be responsible for navigating each major infrastructure project through the entire Federal environmental review and permitting process.
    • Until now, project sponsors have had to navigate decision-making processes across multiple Federal agencies. Federal agencies will work with the lead agency for a project to develop a single Environmental Impact Statement and sign a single Record of Decision.
    • The lead agency will seek written concurrence from other agencies at important points in the process.
  • Federal agencies will follow permitting timetables established by the lead Federal agency, with a goal of completing the process within two years.
    • In the past, Federal agencies were generally not required to follow a comprehensive permitting timetable.
    • Under the MOU, Federal agencies will conduct their review processes at the same time, rather than sequentially, which has led to unnecessary delays.
  • The MOU will ensure interagency issues and disputes are elevated and resolved in a timely manner.
    • Previously, interagency disputes could remain unresolved for years.

DELIVERING STREAMLINED DECISION-MAKING: The One Federal Decision MOU follows through on the President’s policy of streamlining inefficient and lengthy environmental reviews.

  • The MOU will deliver on the President’s policy of One Federal Decision for major infrastructure projects.
  • President Trump’s Executive Order 13807 established a One Federal Decision policy for major infrastructure projects.
    • The Executive Order directed the Office of Management and Budget and the Council on Environmental Quality to develop a framework for implementing One Federal Decision.

CUTTING COSTLY DELAYS:  Inefficient environmental review processes have led to unnecessary delays, depriving our communities of needed infrastructure projects.

  • The MOU improves Federal agency cooperation and ensures Federal agencies establish coordinated permitting timetables for major infrastructure projects, cutting down on needless delays.
  • Too many important infrastructure projects have been held up for years by the environmental review process.
  • The median environmental review completion time for a complex highway project is more than seven years, according to a 2014 Government Accountability Office report.
  • The environmental review and permitting process for the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge Replacement Project in North Carolina took more than 20 years.
    • The environmental review process involved numerous studies and interagency disputes and was subject to extensive delays.
    • The original bridge was well past its design life and is now being replaced with a design that can better withstand the harsh coastal environment.
    • The One Federal Decision framework would have allowed for a much more timely environmental review process.
  • Loop 202, a critical freeway project which will provide an alternative route of travel around Phoenix, took well over a decade to complete the environmental review process.
    • Loop 202’s environmental review faced numerous setbacks and dragged on for years due to poor communication, no agreed upon timetable and other issues.
    • The project, which is the largest in Arizona’s history, is finally in the final stages of development.
    • Had One Federal Decision been in place, agencies could have identified and resolved conflicts throughout project development and reduced their impact on project schedules.

ABC’s Mike Bellaman Appointed to Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion for all Americans

Michael D. Bellaman, president and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), has been appointed by U.S. Department of Labor Secretary R. Alexander Acosta  to the Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion, created by President Trump’s June 15 Executive Order 13801.

“I am excited to join Secretary Acosta’s task force to expand opportunities to citizens nationwide who want to live the American Dream while helping to build and rebuild our country,” said Bellaman. “As the president promised in his election night acceptance speech, every single American will have the opportunity to realize his or her fullest potential under his administration. That sentiment will drive this task force as we work to promote affordable education and rewarding jobs for all Americans.”

According to the order, the task force will submit to the president strategies and proposals focused on four areas:

  • Federal initiatives to promote apprenticeships;
  • Administrative and legislative reforms facilitating the formation and success of apprenticeship programs;
  • The most effective strategies for creating industry-recognized apprenticeships; and
  • The most effective strategies for amplifying and encouraging private-sector initiatives to promote apprenticeships.

The task force’s membership represents a wide range of American companies as well as trade, industry and educational groups. The task force comes at a critical time for industries like construction, which employs about 7.5 million people. By ABC’s estimates, the construction industry needs to hire 500,000 skilled workers to fill a backlog of existing jobs. That number could balloon to more than one million job vacancies if Congress and the president approve a $1 trillion infrastructure bill. Reducing barriers to meet the needs of the construction industry and America’s workforce is vital to fill this gap.

“This is an opportune moment for the next generation of American workers and a valuable step for the American economy,” Bellaman said. “Regardless of their access to higher education, all Americans deserve the chance to acquire a variety of skills that can lead to high-paying and fulfilling careers. I am ready to collaborate with my task force colleagues to recommend to the Trump administration the most effective strategies to expand apprenticeship opportunities for all Americans.”

 

ASCE Reports America’s Infrastructure as D+

President Trump Announces “Massive Permit Reform” Push

Capping off his Administration’s ‘Infrastructure Week,’ President Trump held an event this morning on permitting reform at the U.S. Department of Transportation. President Trump, joined by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke, met with heads of state departments of transportation and then addressed a group of transportation officials and stakeholders. President Trump reiterated his commitment to fixing the nation’s infrastructure and named the existing infrastructure project approval process as a major impediment to that goal, saying “one of the biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately-needed infrastructure…is the painfully slow, costly and time-consuming process for getting permits and approvals to build.”

President Trump is not alone in this view. Secretary Chao has repeatedly said over the last several months that “money is not the problem” when it comes to improving the nation’s infrastructure and instead cutting red tape to speed up the approvals process is the most important thing for restoring the nation’s infrastructure systems. Last month the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on the topic, where Chairman John Barrasso (R-MT) called for simplifying the government review process and making it more flexible to meet the different natures of rural and urban states. However, Ranking Member Tom Carper (D-DE) pushed back on the Secreatary Chao’s comments, declaring lack of funding the biggest impediment to infrastructure improvements and calling for the full implementation of changes to permitting laws passed in recent legislation before Congress takes further action.

Almost everyone agrees the federal infrastructure approval process is a long way from perfect, but there are strongly contrasting ideas about how to improve it. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of an action and to involve the public in their decision-making process. The law is a frequent target of criticism from some sectors because it can add years to a project.

Congress has tried to fix the pain points in several recent pieces of legislation. The FAST Act included new procedural requirements aimed at ensuring early collaboration and efficient environmental reviews for complex infrastructure projects including: the use of a single NEPA document as much as possible with one agency serving as lead and ensuring the review meets the needs of the other agencies; requiring a schedule to be a part of a project coordination plan; and creating a publicly accessible dashboard to publish the status of NEPA and permitting for all projects requiring an environmental impact statement or environmental assessment. MAP-21 and the Water Resources Development Act also included permitting reforms, but these reforms have not been fully implemented yet.

A Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General report from March found that the streamlining provisions in the FAST Act have possibly delayed the improvements expected from the streamlining measures in MAP-21. This should give Congress pause as they contemplate more permitting reform, as the already approved reforms have not had the opportunity to be tested yet.

ASCE has called for mandating concurrent reviews by agencies; a single administrative permitting agency to shorten and improve the approval process and improve inter-agency collaboration; and time limits for decisions on infrastructure projects. To some extent these reforms have all been included in recent legislation (particularly the FAST Act), but their effect is not yet clear.

Today President Trump announced the creation of a new council to help project managers navigate the permitting process including the creation of a new online dashboard. He also announced the creation of a new office within the White House Council of Environmental Quality “to root out inefficiency, clarify lines of authority, and streamline federal, state and local procedures so that communities can modernize their aging infrastructure without fear of outdated federal rules getting in the way.”

While it is obviously too early to know the effect of the Administration’s new efforts to streamline the permitting process, it’s assertion that regulations, not funding, are the real problem in infrastructure ignores the true infrastructure challenges we face. A 2012 Congressional Research Service report questioned the degree to which the NEPA compliance process is a significant source of delay, noting “causes of delay that have been identified are more often tied to local/state and project-specific factors, primarily local/state agency priorities, project funding levels, local opposition to a project, project complexity, or late changes in project scope.” A 2016 report prepared for the U.S. Treasury on proposed major infrastructure projects stated, “A review of the 40 transportation and water infrastructure projects…suggests that they face four major challenges to completion: (a) limited public resources, (b) significantly increased capital costs, (c) extended program and project review and permitting processes, and (d) lack of consensus among multiple public and private sector entities. A lack of public funding is by far the most common factor hindering the completion of transportation and water infrastructure projects.”

ASCE’s 2017 Infrastructure Report Card graded the nation’s infrastructure a D+ and estimates that $4.59 trillion in infrastructure investment will be necessary from federal, state, local, and private sources between 2016 and 2025 to reach a state of good repair and earn a grade of B. However, only just $2.5 trillion is likely to be invested, leaving a $2.0 trillion funding gap. The investment gap led ASCE to make the first key solution of the Report Card increased investment; no amount of streamlining and expediting alone will close the infrastructure investment gap and solve our infrastructure challenges. The Report Card also recommends streamlining the permitting and approval process, but the goals of such changes should to be provide greater clarity to regulatory requirements, bring priority projects to reality more quickly, and secure cost savings. Attempts to shorten the permitting and approval process should not come at the expense of public health, public safety, and the environment.

While we should continue to strive for an efficient and effective federal approval process, addressing the nation’s infrastructure needs requires investing real money in our communities.

http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/tag/infrastructure/