President Trump announced a final step to cut federal red tape for infrastructure projects, on a trip Wednesday to Georgia filled with election-year promises and warnings.
At a UPS facility in Atlanta, Mr. Trump said his administration’s rollback of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act will speed approvals for projects such as pipelines, highways and power plants.
“This is a truly historic breakthrough that means better roads, bridges and tunnels for every UPS driver and every citizen across our land,” the president said. “It should not take 10 years of approval for a simple stretch of road.”
Of all his deregulatory actions, the president said, “this is maybe the biggest of all.”
Mr. Trump, who is locked in a tight battle with Democrat Joseph R. Biden for traditionally red Georgia, said that he and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp are readying some rebuilding projects that will be “big surprises” for the state.
“Almost all of the people in this room do not know about” the infrastructure projects in Georgia soon to receive administration approvals, Mr. Trump said. He also said his administration is speeding funding and approvals for major renovations of the port of Savannah, and that the new expedited review process will benefit an expansion of Interstate 77 near Atlanta.
The president also criticized bureaucratic infrastructure reviews under the Obama administration as slow and costly.
“Biden is happy to tie up projects in red tape, and we want to get things built,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Biden said Georgians “are suffering because of Donald Trump’s complete and utter failure to lead this country and combat the spread of COVID-19.”
“Unemployment is worse than it was during the Great Recession,” Mr. Biden said in a statement. “This administration’s mismanagement has left working families and small business owners out in the cold as they endure the worst economic losses the country has faced in modern memory.”
Mr. Trump also warned against widespread use of mail-in voting, which Georgia has expanded during the coronavirus pandemic this year.
“Watch, please, the mail-in ballots. Be careful,” Mr. Trump said. “They’re going to be rigged. You have to be careful in Georgia. There’s been tremendous corruption on mail-in ballots.”
Then, mindful of his location, the president added, “They [UPS] would understand, because they deliver [ballots]. I’ve got to be very nice.”
Among the president’s guests for the trip on Air Force One was Republican Sen. Kelly Loeffler, who is locked in a special election contest against Republican Rep. Doug Collins and other candidates.
Mr. Collins was waiting at the airport to greet the president, and he interacted briefly with Ms. Loeffler as she got off the plane.
Mr. Trump praised Ms. Loeffler as “a good person and a good woman.”
“She’s been so supportive of me and the agenda,” Mr. Trump said. He also called Mr. Collins “an incredible man and friend.” He has not formally endorsed anyone in the race.
Mr. Collins said later that he “couldn’t have been prouder to join [Mr. Trump] as he announced his plan to strengthen our nation’s infrastructure.”
Environmental groups and Democrats criticized the administration’s rollback of NEPA as a gift to corporate America that will harm low-income communities and the environment.
“The cost of gutting this 50-year-old bedrock law will fall disproportionately on all American families, and especially on low-income communities of color — the very same marginalized communities hit hardest by the pandemic — all in order to benefit some of the most powerful special interests on the planet,” said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat. “Among hundreds of ‘swampy’ acts by this president, this is among the swampiest.”
U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue said the action “will make the federal permitting process more predictable and transparent.”
“It will establish timelines for a decision and make requirements more straightforward,” Mr. Donohue said. “Ultimately, this new rule is not about the outcome of permit applications, but the process and time it takes to get to a decision. This NEPA update does not change existing environmental laws, and it maintains public input opportunities that are so important.”
Mr. Trump said environmental reviews will still be done, but approval or denial of a project will take place in less than two years and a final decision will rest with one federal agency instead of multiple agencies.