Dems dispute Trump admin's claim that regulations are biggest barrier to infrastructure

Dems dispute Trump admin's claim that regulations are biggest barrier to infrastructure
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

A pair of Democrats on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is disputing the Trump administration’s claim that regulations are a bigger barrier to improving U.S. infrastructure than a lack of funding.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has repeatedly said that the “problem is not money,” it’s how long it takes for construction permits to get approved – an issue Trump has promised to address in his infrastructure package.

“Investors say there is ample capital available, waiting to invest in infrastructure projects,” Chao said Wednesday at the American Association of Port Authorities conference. “So the problem is not money. It’s the delays caused by government.”

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But Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), ranking member on the Transportation Committee, shot back that Chao must have been given “alternative facts” because the nation is facing a $2 trillion backlog of transportation projects around the country.

“You can’t streamline your way out of a lack of funding,” DeFazio said during a hearing on Wednesday.

DeFazio highlighted a recent Treasury Department report that determined a lack of public funding is the biggest reason why 40 significant water projects have not yet been completed.

He also pointed out that most projects are held up at the local and state level, and that more than 90 percent of projects don’t have to go through a rigorous environmental review at the federal level.

The comments come as Trump has vowed to cut the regulatory red tape that can slow down transportation projects. He said he wants to cut down the permitting process from 10 years to one year in $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

In a speech to a builders on Tuesday, Trump whipped out a giant chart to show all the regulations that must be complied with to build highways.

“If you want to build a highway in the United States, these are some of the permits you need,” Trump said, holding the chart. “It’s a process that can take way over 10 years and just never happens. … We’re getting rid of many of these regulations.”

DeFazio and Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) sent a letter to the administration on Wednesday, calling on Chao to also include direct funding for transportation upgrades in any infrastructure bill.

“We urge you to seriously consider… proposals to add real revenues for infrastructure investment, and reject efforts that primarily or exclusively consist of measures designed to streamline the environmental review process,” they wrote. “We stand ready to work with you to promote sustainable funding solutions that will help rebuild our nation’s infrastructure.”