Trump Signs Order Rolling Back Environmental Rules on Infrastructure

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Flanked by Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at Trump Tower in Manhattan, Mr. Trump unveiled a head-to-toe-length flow chart purporting to show the permitting regulations required to build a highway in a state he would not name that he claimed took 17 years.

“This is what we will bring it down to — this is less than two years,” Mr. Trump said, dropping the paper to the ground and revealing a new flow chart about a quarter of the size.

“We used to have the greatest infrastructure anywhere in the world, and today we’re like a third-world country,” he said. “No longer will we allow the infrastructure of our magnificent country to crumble and decay.”

A key element of the new executive order rolls back standards set by former President Barack Obama that required the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure.

It also puts in place what the White House called a “one federal decision policy” under which one lead federal agency works with others to complete environmental reviews and other permitting decisions for a given project. All decisions on federal permits will have to be made within 90 days, and agencies will have a two-year goal to process environmental reviews for major projects.

“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,” Mr. Trump said.

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Workers installed drainage pipes and a water pump station in Miami Beach in 2014 to mitigate flooding from rising seas. Representative Carlos Curbelo, Republican of Florida, said South Florida is “on the front lines” of climate change.

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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Some Republicans cheered the executive order. Representative Rob Bishop of Utah called it a strong foundation upon which Congress can move forward an infrastructure bill. “It’s encouraging to have a president who understands that regulatory reform is a precondition for any successful infrastructure policy,” he said in a statement.

Rolling back the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, established by Mr. Obama in an executive order in 2015, is the latest effort by the Trump administration to unravel the former president’s climate change agenda. Building trade groups and Republican lawmakers had criticized the rule as costly and overly burdensome.

But environmental activists, flood plain managers and some conservatives had urged the Trump administration to preserve it, arguing that it protected critical infrastructure and taxpayer dollars.

“The Trump administration’s decision to overturn this is a disaster for taxpayers and the environment,” said Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington. He described the Obama order as a common-sense measure to prevent taxpayer money from being sunk into projects threatened by flooding.

A White House official said that Mr. Trump’s order reinstated the previous flood management standard, issued by President Jimmy Carter in 1977, but that it did not prohibit state and local agencies from using more stringent standards if they chose.

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The Obama-era rule gave federal agencies three options to flood-proof new infrastructure projects. They could use the best available climate change science; they could require that standard projects like roads and railways be built two feet above the national 100-year flood elevation standard and critical buildings like hospitals be built three feet higher; or they could require infrastructure to be built to at least the 500-year flood plain. The order did not regulate private development.

Representative Ralph Abraham of Louisiana, a Republican who sponsored legislation that would have blocked Mr. Obama’s flood standard, said he was thrilled by Mr. Trump’s decision. He acknowledged that Louisiana was inundated with catastrophic flooding last year, but called it an isolated event. The bigger threat, he said, is from costly regulations.

He estimated the rule would have increased the cost of a new home by 25 percent to 30 percent in Louisiana because most of the state would be put in a federal flood plain.

“We had more than our share of tragedy down here with the water, but we already have problems meeting requirements,” Mr. Abraham said. “The new plan would make it so costly for my Louisiana residents.”

The Obama administration had estimated that the more stringent standards would increase construction costs by 0.25 percent to 1.25 percent, but save taxpayers money in the long run.

Representative Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican who has called for addressing the threat posed by climate change, criticized Mr. Trump’s decision.

“This executive order is not fiscally conservative,” he said in a statement. “It’s irresponsible and it will lead to taxpayer dollars being wasted on projects that may not be built to endure the flooding we are already seeing and know is only going to get worse.”

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