On Tuesday, President Trump announced the signing of an executive order meant to streamline the infrastructure process and to speed up construction of bridges, highways, pipelines, and other major infrastructure projects. President Trump claimed that this executive order would bring manufacturing jobs back and fix our "badly broken" infrastructure system.
To show how badly our infrastructure process needs streamlining, President Trump used an example of how it takes seventeen years to receive a permit to build a highway in a certain state. He brought out a flow chart showing the numerous regulations as proof - but wouldn't say which state was home to all of those regulations. Trump then claimed that under his new executive order, it would take less than two years to get the same highway construction permit in that still unnamed state. The idea that the construction permit process is too slow is not a new one for President Trump, who spent much of his life as a real estate developer. He has long been frustrated with the permit process personally, and promised widespread deregulation many times on the campaign trail.
During the press conference, President Trump also claimed that "we used to have the greatest infrastructure anywhere in the world, and today we're like a third-world country." Hmmm. President Trump, have you done much traveling in third world countries recently? For that matter, have you taken any cross country road trips and experienced our infrastructure recently? Do you have any idea what you're actually comparing? I have a sneaky feeling he doesn't.
By far the worst part about President Trump's executive order is the fact that it rolls back the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard, which was established by President Obama via executive order in 2015. The standards required the federal government to account for sea-level rise due to climate change when building infrastructure with a series of easy to follow rules. All standard projects, such as roads and railways, had to be built two feet above the national 100-year flood elevation standard and all critical buildings, such as hospitals, had to be built three feet higher than that standard. The other option was to build everything to at least the 500-year flood elevation standard. An important distinction to this rule is that it did not regulate private development.
Rolling back the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard has been met with wide disapproval, especially from environmentalists and economists. At this point, it is simply irresponsible not to take rising sea levels, more flooding, and more intense storms into account when starting new projects. It's undeniable that we are locked into some amount of climate change and these new projects are inherently riskier. Rafael Lemaitre, former director of public affairs at FEMA, said that "eliminating this requirement is self defeating; we can either build smarter now, or put taxpayers on the hook to pay exponentially more when it floods. And it will." Lemaitre worked on the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard under Obama, and called it the "most significant action taken in a generation" to safeguard our infrastructure. Eli Lehrer, president of the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington, DC called Trump's executive order a "disaster for taxpayers and the environment."
Since this federal regulation has been rolled back it now depends upon states, local governments, and private corporations to keep common sense alive and continue to take climate change into account when working on new projects. States have separate building codes and regulations from federal governments, and I hope that they are able to implement some similar standards, especially in coastal areas.