President Donald Trump plans to sign an executive order Tuesday designed to streamline the approval process for building roads, bridges and other infrastructure by establishing "one federal decision" for major projects and setting a two-year goal for permitting.
The order will create accountability and discipline for the permitting process and will not require a change in law, said a person familiar with the matter. The process can sometimes involve approvals by multiple agencies and duplicative reviews, officials have said.
Among other things, the president's order will rescind a decree signed by former President Barack Obama that required federal agencies to account for flood risk and climate change when paying for roads, bridges or other structures.
Critics say there's danger in streamlining reviews. The approach might lead to "rubber-stamping" permits without adequate scrutiny, said Scott Edwards, co-director of the justice project at the Washington-based environmental group Food & Water Watch. If that happens, environmental groups will bring legal challenges, he said.
Mr. Trump is expected to participate in an infrastructure discussion during his visit to Trump Tower in New York Tuesday with his team, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, the White House said.
Because the federal government owns less than 10% of U.S. infrastructure, the Trump administration has focused on efforts to accelerate environmental reviews and permitting for projects that can take years and create unpredictability for investors.
"This is the most boring thing we do but absolutely the most impactful thing," D.J. Gribbin, special assistant to the president for infrastructure policy, said during a June 23 appearance at the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Florida.
Rolling back Mr. Obama's provision won't prohibit state and local agencies from using more stringent standards if they choose, said the person familiar with the plan.
Administration officials argue generally that the permitting process has gotten out of control. Ms. Chao said Tuesday that it can take decades to get a few miles of highway or a bridge built because projects can be subject to as many as 65 requirements and permits.
"For far too long, critical projects have been delayed by duplicative permitting and environmental requirements, which added time and unnecessary expenses to much needed projects," Ms. Chao said in a statement.
The Trump administration has said it plans to release a legislative package by this fall to meet the president's pledge to invest $1 trillion to upgrade U.S. infrastructure. The White House signaled it wants to allocate $200 billion in federal dollars over 10 years to pay for large-scale and rural projects and to induce states, localities and the private sector to spend $800 billion.
Mr. Trump approved an earlier executive order just four days after taking office to expedite environmental reviews and approvals for high-priority infrastructure projects, and White House officials in March convened a working group of federal agencies to identify policies, regulations and statutes that hinder project approvals.
The president also announced on June 9 during the White House's "infrastructure week" that he was creating a council that already exists, the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council. It was authorized by Congress in 2015 and implemented by Mr. Obama. The council is not meeting its potential, the White House said at the time.
The Business Roundtable sent Mr. Cohn a letter on April 7 reiterating that "existing law already provides a mechanism for comprehensive reform" of the permitting process for major projects.
A fact sheet the administration released with its budget on May 23 calls for designating a single federal entity to shepherd each project through the review and permitting process instead of navigating multiple agencies, as well as shifting infrastructure permitting to state and local officials where appropriate.
That's particularly important for private-sector investors, who have capital available but lack enough projects and certainty about deals, Ms. Chao has said.
Democrats have urged the administration to focus on the streamlining provisions that have already been approved but not yet fully implemented and said the problem is really a lack of direct federal spending for projects.