Having saddled our children with more than $1 trillion in new debt to pay for tax cuts skewed to the wealthy, President Trump laid out in his State of the Union address a reckless scheme to burden future generations even more.
In his call to kill off commonsense safeguards and fast-track or skip responsible review of public works projects, Trump is threatening to impose on our children a mountain of environmental debt and harm that would tax their health and quality of life.
Those are the certain and predictable consequences of his attempt to use his infrastructure initiative to widen his attack on protections from toxic pollution and environmental ruin and to dim the voice of the public in the review of taxpayer-funded construction projects.
We can do better than that.
As Americans, we share the obligation, and the opportunity, to invest in 21st-century projects that modernize the way we travel, ship goods, deliver safe drinking water and clean energy, reduce the damage from storms and floods and boost economic and educational opportunities for all our people.
This is real work that can generate millions of good-paying jobs that can’t be outsourced or shipped overseas. It’s the kind of roll-up-our-sleeves-and-get-it-done moment that’s defined our nation from its birth.
The question is not whether to do this — we should. The question is how to do it in a responsible, sustainable and equitable way that leaves us better, not poorer, as a nation.
That begins with calling out the problem and embracing real solutions, not distracting ourselves with scapegoats. On these counts, Trump’s got it wrong.
He claims the problem is that protecting our environment is getting in the way of investing in our future. The solution, he says, is to turn back the clock on decades of bipartisan progress in defending our environment and health. He’s trying to distract us with boasts of how many regulations he’s killed, rather than owning up to the core issue.
While claiming to have “eliminated more regulations” than any previous administration, Trump called on Congress to “streamline the permitting and approval process” for roads, bridges and other large infrastructure projects, “getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one.”
We all support efficient government and the constant improvement that demands. The reason so much of our infrastructure is “crumbling” — Trump’s word — and out of date, though, is that we have failed, as a nation, to fund a generation of needed upgrades. Fast-tracking environmental review won’t help, because environmental safeguards aren’t the problem.
That’s the conclusion of a 2016 Treasury Department study of a range of stalemated infrastructure projects, from ways to improve Gulf Coast shipping and air traffic control to harbor dredging and high-speed rail. Of the 40 projects examined, 39 were delayed by a lack of funding.
Similarly, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has more than $90 billion worth of authorized projects awaiting funding. Nearly all have completed federal environmental reviews, as required by law.
Congress, however, has provided just $5 billion a year for the projects. It’s not environmental review that's holding them up: it’s the missing $85 billion.
The same is true for the Gateway Tunnel, a project to replace the century-old passage beneath the Hudson River that Amtrak and New Jersey Transit passengers use to travel between New York and New Jersey. Those two states have agreed to pay half the project’s $13-billion cost, but the Trump administration has reneged on a pledge by President Obama for federal dollars to foot the balance.
That’s what’s put the Gateway Tunnel on ice, not responsible environmental oversight.
Weakening or repealing common-sense safeguards doesn’t strengthen our country or make our economy more efficient. It simply shifts risks and costs away from industry and developers and onto our families and communities.
That’s not leadership. It’s not about jobs, and it's certainly not about putting America first.
The truest measure of leadership is how well we do by our children. Their inheritance is in our hands. They will know our hearts by what we leave them, just as we know the hearts of our forebears.
They left us a country whose promise was greater, whose equity was more widespread and whose unity was more secure than at any other time in our history. They left us a future brighter than our past.
Our children deserve no less from us. That’s what we must demand of our leaders.
Suh is president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.