President Trump promised on Friday to include “massive permit reform” in his $1 trillion infrastructure package as a way to speed up the lengthy construction approval process, which he blamed for getting in the way of efforts to repair the country’s infrastructure.
Trump's goal is to bring the approval process from as long as 10 years down to two years, while providing “one point of contact to deliver ‘yes or no’ for the entire federal government,” Trump said during a speech at the Department of Transportation headquarters.
The White House will try to achieve that target by setting up a new council to assist project managers, allowing permitting steps to occur simultaneously, establishing new penalties for federal agencies that miss deadlines and creating an online dashboard for managers to track projects.
Trump’s speech wraps up a weeklong infrastructure push designed to ramp up support for his effort to rebuild U.S. roads, bridges and other public works.
“We are here today to focus on solving one of the biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately-needed infrastructure — and that is the painfully slow, costly and time-consuming process for getting permits and approvals to build,” Trump said.
“My administration is committed to ending these terrible delays once and for all. The excruciating wait time for permitting has inflicted enormous financial pain on cities and states — and has blocked many important projects from ever getting off the ground.”
To prove his point, Trump — whose business career revolved around real estate and construction projects — showed off two massive charts that illustrate every single regulation and permit approval that must be complied with to build highways.
“Today it can take 10 years just to get the approvals and permits needed to build a major infrastructure project,” Trump said. “These charts beside me are actually a simplified version of our highway permitting process. It includes 16 different approvals involving 10 different federal agencies being governed by 26 different statutes.”
During the speech, Trump pulled out three large binders containing the paperwork for a single environmental review of an 18-mile road in Maryland, clunking them down on the podium for dramatic effect and thumbing through all the pages.
Trump said the report weighed 70 pounds and cost $29 million to produce — $24,000 per page.
Trump said he was shown the binders during an earlier roundtable with state transportation officials and asked if he could take them up on stage with him.
“These binders on this stage could be replaced by just a few simple pages, and it would be just as good,” Trump said. “It would actually be much better, because these binders also make you do unnecessary things that cost billions and billions of dollars, and they actually make it worse.”
Trump said the administration will set up a new infrastructure council to help project managers “navigate the bureaucratic maze” and will create an online dashboard to track major projects throughout each stage of the process.
Federal agencies that consistently miss deadlines and cause delays will face “tough” new penalties, Trump said.
The White House will also establish a “Council of Environmental Quality” to clarify lines of authority and streamline federal, state and local procedures.
The administration said an infrastructure task force has identified “dozens” of proposals that could help cut the red tape.
One idea would allow steps in the permitting process to occur simultaneously instead of sequentially. Another idea under consideration is enforcing the page-limit restrictions on environmental reports, which the administration said reach tens of thousands of pages.
“Permit reform … doesn’t sound glamorous. They won’t write stories about it; they won’t talk about it, but it is so important,” Trump said.
But Democrats have disputed the notion that regulations are the biggest barrier to improving U.S. infrastructure.
And a bipartisan duo in the Senate even pointed out that there are already a number of streamlining tools available, including a federal permitting council that was included in the last highway bill, while other new streamlining provisions have yet to be enacted. There is also a permitting dashboard for federal infrastructure projects that already exists, and it's unclear how Trump's proposal would differ.
“We are concerned that your Administration is not making use of important tools Congress has given it to accomplish this goal," Sens. Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump takes shot at new GOP candidate in Ohio over Cleveland nickname Centrist state lawmaker enters Ohio GOP Senate primary Emboldened Trump takes aim at GOP foes MORE (R-Ohio) and Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillRepublicans may regret restricting reproductive rights Sunday shows preview: States deal with fallout of Ida; Texas abortion law takes effect Giuliani to stump for Greitens in Missouri MORE (D-Mo.) wrote in a letter to Trump on Thursday. "It is perplexing that the Administration has not taken full advantage of the powerful tools Congress gave it in FAST-41 it to accomplish those goals."