Democrats Debunk Trump’s Claims that the Environmental Review Process Stands in the Way of the Republican Infrastructure Plan

Washington, D.C. – More than a dozen of the Trump administration’s agencies – including the Department of the Interior – signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) Monday pledging to streamline the environmental review process for major infrastructure projects. Following the announcement, Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) pointed out that the infrastructure examples Trump picked for his fact sheet don’t support his case for slashing the environmental review process.

Democratic Staff for the House Natural Resources Committee debunked the claims behind both infrastructure examples cited by the White House:

THE CLAIM: “The environmental review and permitting process for the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge Replacement Project in North Carolina took more than 20 years.”

THE FACT: The truth is, there is nothing in the administration’s new MOU that would have expedited the Bonner Bridge project. The project was delayed because of complications unrelated to the environmental review and permitting process. The Bonner Bridge project is not just a bridge—it’s a 15-mile-long corridor on North Carolina's Outer Banks, which includes many areas where the highway is collapsing into the Atlantic Ocean. Much of the early project delay was caused by funding shortfalls and local political resistance, including from the citizens and elected officials of Dare County, North Carolina over concerns that the project would harm other development in the northern Outer Banks.

THE CLAIM: “Loop 202, a critical freeway project which will provide an alternative route of travel around Phoenix, took well over a decade to complete the environmental review process.”

THE FACT: The truth is that the Loop 202 project was delayed because of a lack of funding and local support. Loop 202 – the largest highway project in Arizona’s history – will cost billions of dollars to complete and has been opposed for years by numerous communities that will be affected by its construction. For example, the Gila River Indian Community voted against allowing the project to run through their lands because of its impact on tribal land, culture, health, and sacred sites. The project was also opposed by many Arizona residents because it would fragment critically important habitat areas and harm Arizona wildlife.

Contrary to the White House statement, the project featured robust federal and state agency coordination, as part of North Carolina’s “Merger Team” process. Throughout this process, federal and state transportation agencies worked together to navigate local political concerns and funding limitations. Once the agencies reached consensus that they needed to start moving the highway away from the rapidly eroding shoreline, the process has moved forward at a steady pace.

“The real barrier to Trump’s infrastructure plan isn’t environmental protections, its Republicans’ failure to legislate,” Grijalva said. “Slashing environmental standards isn’t going to solve anything, it’s simply a distraction to make it seem like the administration is doing something on infrastructure, while destroying the environment. The truth is that Republicans in Congress are too scared to approve the federal funding needed to move forward with a real infrastructure plan; it’s not a serious proposal and they know it.”

In August of last year, President Trump signed an executive order to weaken the environmental review process for his $1 trillion infrastructure package. But, not only is this order ill-conceived, it is completely unnecessary. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) “reforms” have already been passed by Congress in recent years, several of which have not even been implemented yet. These changes were included in the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act, and the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21th Century Act.

NEPA is a bedrock conservation law that requires federal agencies to consider the potential environmental impacts of projects that use federal funds and gives impacted communities an opportunity to weigh in and provide feedback. According to a 2014 Government Accountability Office report, more than 95 percent of all NEPA reviews are completed within a matter of days, and only the most complex and potentially destructive projects, accounting for less than one percent of all reviews, must receive a full Environmental Impact Statement.

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