US President Donald Trump on Wednesday unveiled a major overhaul to a Nixon-era law designed to protect the environment when issuing infrastructure permits, as he doubled down on his signature policy of rolling back regulations with the aim of promoting United States economic growth.
Speaking to an audience in Atlanta, Georgia, Trump announced changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that would shorten the amount of time it takes to conduct environmental reviews for issuing permits for major infrastructure projects such as highways, pipelines and oil wells.
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“Today’s action is part of my administration’s fierce commitment to slashing the web of needless bureaucracy that is holding back our citizens,” said Trump.
In a clear dig at presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, who served in the administration of former President Barack Obama, Trump said: “Under the last administration, a mere seven percent of review for federal highways were processed within two years,” adding that under his administration’s overhaul, “two years won’t be the exception, it’ll be the rule.”
Trump and many other free-market conservatives believe that bureaucratic red tape designed to prevent negative impacts on health and the environment hold up projects for an unnecessary length of time, increasing costs and acting as a drag on jobs creation and economic growth.
But environmental activists say weakening such rules would disproportionately harm low-income and historically disadvantaged communities of colour.
African-American and other low-income communities in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions of the US breathe 66 percent more vehicle pollution than white Americans, found a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists. Surveys by the National Institutes of Health have also found that asthma and lead poisoning rates are much higher among African-American children in the US than white children, while a 2017 study by the Clean Air Task Force and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People found that oil and natural gas facilities are either built near or currently exist within a half-mile of over one million African Americans.
On Tuesday, Biden unveiled a starkly alternative vision for upgrading the nation’s infrastructure, pledging to invest $2 trillion over his four-year term in office to promote a clean energy economy that aims to create millions of well-paying jobs and redress environmental injustices.
“We’re going to reverse Trump’s rollbacks of 100 public health and environmental rules and then forge a path to greater ambition,” said Biden said on Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Trump criticised his challenger’s approach, claiming: “Biden wants to massively regulate the energy economy, rejoin the Paris Climate accord, which would kill our energy totally and you’d have to close 25 percent of your businesses and kill oil and gas development.”
Trump has made his stewardship of the economy a bedrock of his re-election bid, and economic policy is one of the few areas where Biden continues to trail Trump in the polls.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released on Wednesday found that while 51 percent of voters said they would vote for Biden if the election were held today, compared to 40 percent for Trump – more than half of voters – some 54 percent – approve of Trumps’ handling of the economy.
More than 30 million Americans are currently collecting unemployment benefits from either state or federal programmes, and the fragile rebound from the coronavirus-induced recession is being threatened as lockdown rollbacks are either postponed or reversed in parts of the country where infections are spiking.
There is already evidence that hiring is suffering from a pullback, with jobs site Glassdoor reporting that job openings in the US have fallen 5.5 percent since June 22.