Infrastructure proposal undermines key environmental safeguards

A bridge crosses the Tennessee River in Chattanooga. 

A new proposal put forward by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bill Shuster attempts to revive the stalled debate over how to address our country’s massive infrastructure needs. Unfortunately, the proposal also marks the latest assault on our environmental laws.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump proposed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure “plan.” The President’s proposal was lacking in details and failed to address the pressing question of how to pay for our country’s infrastructure needs. Instead, the President focused largely on slashing key environmental protections and stifling public input into decisions. 

While Representative Shuster’s proposal does contain some recommendations to increase investment in infrastructure, it lacks a vision of how increased infrastructure funds might be spent. Any infrastructure proposal needs to promote cleaner projects, enhance equity, and take other steps to advance the public interest. A blank check for infrastructure would be a step backwards.       

Worse, the Shuster proposal contains the latest attack on the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, which for decades has served as our bedrock transparency law – helping to ensure informed decision-making by agencies and robust public participation. President Trump is currently seeking to rewrite the regulations that are used to implement this vital safeguard – comments are due on that proposal by August 20. The notion that NEPA is to blame for project delays is not new – but it is wrong. Study after study has shown that the real problem is limited project funding and understaffed federal agencies.

A strong NEPA process is essential as we work to modernize and build more resilient infrastructure across the country. It is vital that states, cities, towns, and the general public have an opportunity to be engaged in the decision-making process,” said SELC attorney Kym Hunter, who is heading the organization’s defense of NEPA. “Time and again we’ve seen that transparency and public input result in strong and long lasting projects that benefit communities.”

In addition to weakening the NEPA process, Shuster’s proposal would limit the authority of states to review projects under the Clean Water Act. “States count on the ability to approve or deny projects in keeping with state requirements to protect their communities’ natural environment,” said Hunter.

The proposal also seeks to skirt NEPA and other federal laws altogether by allowing the U.S. Secretary of Transportation to waive key environmental laws entirely for select projects.

The infrastructure needs in our nation are immense. We cannot address them without a comprehensive funding approach that invests in cleaner transportation choices, and we must not address them by sacrificing our environment,” said Trip Pollard, Senior Attorney and Leader of SELC’s Land and Community Program. “Modernizing infrastructure means funding smart investments that will strengthen our communities and promote economic development while ensuring we have clean water and clean air.”

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