Trump Infrastructure Plan Draws Fire From Conservationists

(CN) – Environmental groups say the White House’s long-awaited infrastructure plan, expected to be unveiled Tuesday during President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, will undermine protections for endangered species.

The Center for Biological Diversity said the draft infrastructure plan contains at least six provisions that would gut essential provisions of the Endangered Species Act, long the bane of pro-business Republicans who complain the law is used to thwart development and economic activity.

“Trump’s proposal would dig a graveyard for our most imperiled wildlife and bury America’s natural heritage,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the center. “We can and should restore our infrastructure without this reckless scheme to let corporate polluters annihilate endangered animals and contaminate our air and water.”

The Washington Post obtained a draft of Trump’s infrastructure plan, which would scale back environmental requirements while speeding up the permitting process for federal infrastructure projects.

Trump has repeatedly criticized the permitting process dictated by the National Environmental Policy Act as unnecessary onerous and a persistent impediment to starting necessary infrastructure projects.

“No longer can we allow these rules and regulations to tie down our economy, chain up our prosperity and sap our great American spirit,” Trump said this past summer at the Department of Transportation.

But environmental organizations see this as yet another example of the Trump administration handing favors to big business at the expense of clean air and water and habitat for wildlife.

Hartl said hundreds of endangered species will be driven to extinction if the alterations to National Environmental Policy Act processes are allowed to take place.

Specifically, Hartl criticized the proposals to streamline the processes for listing and delisting endangered species by allowing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to set its own deadlines, a change significant enough to imperil hundreds of animal and plant species.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service is already behind the deadlines for more than 400 species due to political interference and funding shortfalls instigated by Republican politicians,” the center said in a statement Tuesday. “The Trump administration purposefully missed dozens of deadlines for endangered species protections in 2017.”

Republican lawmakers have mounted several recent attacks on the signature environmental law that protects endangered species, criticizing the manner in which environmentalists and those opposed to development weaponize it to prevent various projects from moving forward.

Last July, Republican lawmakers in the House launched formal efforts to alter the Endangered Species Act to make it more friendly to industry, private landowners and state managers.

“In short, the ESA doesn’t work,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop, a Republican from Utah, said at the time. “We have to find a way to reform it so that it actually solves problems, not just continues on the process.”

The proposal was criticized heavily by Democratic legislators, who promised a fight.

“Despite an ongoing misinformation campaign by Republicans and their industry allies, designed to turn the public against ESA, 90 percent of American voters support keeping the law intact,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona who is also on the House Natural Resources Committee.

The center says this long campaign against critical environmental protections is buried in a plan that purports to be about fixing and improving aspects of America’s aging infrastructure, including roads, bridges, airports and tunnels.

Along with allowing Fish and Wildlife to determine schedules, the plan also seeks to delegate significant conservation decisions to states, removes the need for industry to guarantee their conservation projects – often to offset project damage to habitat – and delays the timing of critical habitat designations.

 

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