February 16, 2018

Infrastructure Plan Hamstrings Bureaucrats Gone Wild

In the teeth of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt put the army of the unemployed to work building dams, digging canals and planting forests.

He understood the impact of these projects would ripple across the economy. Men (and they were usually men) digging ditches would need overalls, boosting farm prices for cotton growers and adding jobs in textile mills and garment factories.

Roosevelt could create tens of thousands of jobs in the blink of an eye with the stroke of a pen. Hoover Dam was built in five years, the Pentagon in just 16 months. The Empire State Building took one year to build.

A similar undertaking today would be a make-work program for lawyers and bureaucrats, not construction crews.

In 1970, Congress mandated environmental impact statements (EISs) for roads, buildings and other projects with a significant footprint. Back then, the studies usually consisted of a few hundred pages and took no longer than 12 months. They can now take four to six years, cost millions of dollars and frequently run thousands of pages.

Building a new runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport took four years, but it took 15 years to get the building permits, and it took almost 20 years to permit the Kensington gold mine in Alaska. It’s 14 years and counting for final federal approval to expand the Gross Reservoir outside Boulder, Colorado.

Every delay turning the first shovelful of dirt adds to a project’s cost and subtracts from someone’s paycheck and the nation’s economic growth.

Just as the regulatory state has eclipsed the productive economy, it should come as no surprise the lawyers and lobbyists of the Washington elite cater to permit pushers rather than the forgotten men and women of America who need roads, bridges and factories to make a living.

President Trump’s infrastructure plan streamlines the permit process to rein in bureaucrats gone wild.

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Critics of President Trump’s $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan say the $200 billion from the federal government is insufficient to get the job done. But they overlook the multiplier effect of his regulatory reform.

Just as delays add to the cost of a project, streamlining the approval process adds much-needed dollars to construction budgets. President Trump’s reforms would shorten the timeline from 10 years to 2, freeing some $3.6 trillion to spend on cement and steel rather than legal briefs and appeals.

America was founded as a nation of builders, not lawyers. Honoring that heritage is how we will make America great again.

-- Curtis Ellis, Policy Advisor at America First Policies

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