Bldg. trades union leaders laud Trump interagency pact to speed construction permits

WASHINGTON–Building trades union leaders lauded a Trump administration interagency agreement to speed up federal permits to build infrastructure projects. One top environmental group opposed it, and other unions and environmentalists were silent.

 

Trump released a memo joining the departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency and others in committing to approving needed federal permits for every infrastructure project within two years. The memo does not affect state and local permits for infrastructure projects.

 

If there are disagreements among the agencies – such as if Energy and EPA differ — the Cabinet secretaries themselves would make the final call. The April 9 memo implements an executive order Trump signed in early 2017.

 

That quick OK would be a sharp change from current practice, where federal, state and local permit requirements and local objections – to prevent everything from unwanted pollution to destruction of historic sites – often delay a project’s start for a decade or so.

 

The controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline’s Northern Leg, for example, was delayed by two State Department environmental reviews – since it crossed the Canada-U.S. border – which included comments from other agencies, an Obama administration decision against it and a Trump reversal, letting it go ahead.

 

All that came years after TransCanada, the pipeline’s sponsor, signed a Project Labor Agreement with six unions, including the Laborers, the Operating Engineers and the Teamsters, to have union workers construct Keystone. The pact was signed in 2008, but reviews and court suits have delayed the pipeline ever since.

 

Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan said the Trump administration’s “One Federal Decision” memo “will help streamline federal review and permitting processes for major infrastructure projects. The administration’s effort to improve efficiency and encourage federal agencies to coordinate will spur investment and speed building of our nation’s roads, bridges, water systems, and transit.”

 

The Laborers “are America’s builders,” O’Sullivan said, referring to their construction work, especially on roads, tunnels and bridges. “But costly and time-consuming review processes are holding us back from rebuilding our nation’s great roadways and bridges, unlocking our domestic energy reserves, and making crucial repairs to our aging drinking water systems.”

 

North America’s Building Trades Unions, the old AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department, agreed.

“The construction industry is dependent upon permitting, whether it be the construction

 

 

of a 6-lane interstate bridge, or a residential driveway.  Unfortunately, for some time now the federal permitting process has lacked certainty and accountability and has morphed into a labyrinth of unpredictability and duplication,” NABTU said in a statement.

 

The federal interagency pact “will hopefully lead to a more efficient permitting process without sacrificing the integrity of the underlying statutes that keep our members safe on the jobsite and protect the environment,” the unions added.

 

It “will streamline the federal permitting process to produce timely outcomes, deliver certainty to both public and private project investors, and most importantly, deliver certainty for job opportunities for the hard-working men and women of North America’s Building Trades Unions who build our nation’s infrastructure.”

 

The Natural Resources Defense Council was the only environmental group to immediately question the Trump directive.

 

Residents affected by infrastructure projects “should have a say in the projects that will define their communities for decades to come,” NRDC Legislative Director Scott Siesinger said in a statement. “Short-circuiting that process won’t help get new projects built.”

 

He called the memo “a scapegoat” for Trump’s failure to move an infrastructure plan through the GOP-run Congress. That legislation is stalled due to lack of details from the White House, questions of how to pay for roads and bridges, and right-wing Republican opposition to spending and taxes, including gas taxes.

 

Trump Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, who will chair the top-level panel that would solve disputes, said her agency “is already making progress in reducing the red tape

 

“DOT is working together with other cabinet departments on a new process to handle the permitting of complicated, multi-agency projects within the president’s new, expedited timeline. This means less paperwork, and more timely improvements that will better protect the environment and improve our quality of life.”

Source: PAI