By John O’Grady
The Hill

In President Trump’s State of the Union address he floated a proposal to allow corporations to exploit our natural resources by gutting vital environmental protections under the pretext of short-term jobs.

His gratuitous deregulation agenda, the lynchpin of the White House’s public works projects, allows the administration to sell Americans’ public health and public lands to industry and special interests to finance the infrastructure spending program.

He merely sees dollar signs, but no natural value in the unspoiled outdoors. To rationalize Trump’s plan, you would have to be suspicious that government by its very nature is corrupt and bloated. It is not.

His proposal would actually cut existing funds and kill existing infrastructure jobs — $1.69 in cuts for every $1 in proposed spending.

It would be another substantial windfall for Wall Street banks by calling for the privatization of highways, bridges and water systems that would require charging big tolls and fees.

But it is the swipe Trump takes against our environment in his greedy plan that really rankles. On top of all the rollbacks that he has already initiated via Administrator Scott Pruitt’s EPA and Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Interior Department, his infrastructure plan targets fundamental protections for clean air and uncontaminated water, the bulwark of safeguards that are designed for protecting all Americans.

The domestic jobs plan is clearly not the bipartisan infrastructure proposal that Congress has been waiting to unite over.

A great majority of Americans favor improving environmental safeguards and even more reject the sacrifice of regulations to provide for necessary public works.

Ninety-four percent of Americans, including 92 percent of people who voted for Trump, insist that infrastructure can be built while keeping environmental protections in place, according to a poll conducted by Hart Research Associates for the Center for American Progress and Defenders of Wildlife.

Despite vast disapproval of Trump’s position, it has not stopped him from storming ahead with even more benefits to polluting industries, allowing, for instance, the secretary of the Interior, rather than Congress, to unilaterally authorize the construction of fossil fuel pipelines across national parks and public lands.

For nearly 100 years, companies needed congressional approval — but the proposed infrastructure plan would obliterate that historic requirement.

Beware when Trump or Pruitt claim they will give the monies directly to the states because EPA already streamlines the process with pass-through grants. Everyone recognizes state and local governments are in desperate need of funding, a lack of which can create insurmountable obstacles to fixing crumbling infrastructure. Does this White House intend for the agency to collapse under its own weight?

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave America’s infrastructure a failing grade of D+ in its 2017 report. ASCE has identified more than $2.2 trillion in outstanding infrastructure needs.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors supports the passage of a major infrastructure package that starts addressing the $4.6 trillion infrastructure investment shortfall in America.

Instead, the deregulation agency of the Trump administration is attempting to exploit the funding needs by erasing successful, landmark environmental laws like the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

Like the Republican’s recent tax reform plan, Trump would reward the wealthiest people and corporations with regulatory rollbacks and profits from construction projects that cause irreparable harm on public health and the environment for decades.

Pitting Americans’ interest in creating jobs and improving infrastructure against our need for clean air and water, Trump’s inadequate plan also calls for circumventing one of our oldest and most effective environmental laws, the National Environmental Policy Act. It requires our government to ensure that a building project will not harm the environment prior to granting construction permits.

Instead, Trump is calling for federal regulators to rubber stamp authorizations for corporations so that they can build leaky, dangerous pipelines and contaminate toxic waste dumps. In the name of so-called “reform” and “efficiency,” his plan removes air and water protections and eliminates the publics’ participation in important infrastructure decisions.

There exists legislation that expedites federal approvals, reduces duplication, spurs fidelity to project schedules, employs fiscal management systems and provides for an expedited path through historic preservation requirements.

Passed by a Republican Congress during the Obama presidency, two laws address delays in federal permits — the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act and Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. The Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council oversees the entire process for qualifying projects. But in not using current law to grease the wheels, Trump has, in his infrastructure plan, taken yet another opportunity to eviscerate the environment.

In his State of the Union address, President Trump outlined an infrastructure plan which is just a very shady deal for the American people. The continuing war on environmental protections emanates from a man who seems to have little inkling of the shared natural treasure that our American nation provides. Even Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) has said we must save the EPA from gutting by Trump and his allies.

At the current rate, deregulation will be the cause of our country’s demise. This White House and Congress are quick to redistribute our natural wealth to industries seeking to exploit and profit at any cost to the American public, while the EPA scientists who respect regulations are looking to protect the American public.

We call on all citizens, and especially elected officials, to resist the rush to build unfettered and further to inflict harm on the health of our families’, as well as our lakes, rivers and lands.

John O’Grady is president of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) National Council of EPA Locals #238 representing over 8,000 bargaining unit employees at the U.S. EPA nationwide.

 

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