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An infrastructure winner: Cut red tape

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A meeting last week with President Trump left Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer confident that a $2 trillion infrastructure deal could be struck this year. They said they had agreed on “a big and bold initiative.”

It’s big, certainly — the potential price tag is enormous, as is the raft of progressive favorite causes that Pelosi and Schumer say should be part of the package.

These include creating jobs (both sides favor that, of course) but also “advancing public health with clean air and clean water … and addressing climate change.” Infrastructure should be “for the future, with respect to paying the prevailing wage” and “the imperative to involve women, veteran and minority-owned businesses in construction.”

The Wall Street Journal said it well: “In other words, it is about income redistribution and the social pork barrel.”

As members of Congress move forward on this grand plan, they might also want to spend time on something other than writing a giant check. In particular, looking for ways to reduce the amount of government red tape that strangles construction projects.

Some good news on this front came Wednesday when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it was proposing that the American Burying Beetle be categorized as “threatened” instead of “endangered.” This change will save time and money on road and pipeline projects in eastern Oklahoma.

The insect has been deemed endangered for the past 30 years. Until five years ago, construction crews had to hire biologists to trap and relocate the beetles before work could begin. An Oklahoma City energy company famously spent about $6 million relocating 12 beetles before it could complete a pipeline.

Since 2014, companies often have been able to meet federal rules by paying to support established American Burying Beetle habitats in the region.

To its credit, the Trump administration has made streamlining of the permitting and approval process a priority for infrastructure projects. Yet in a speech in March to transportation officials from across the country, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao cited a McKinsey analysis that said the U.S. preconstruction process “continues to be among the slowest in the world.”

“Clearly, too many construction projects in the U.S. are over budget and behind schedule due in significant part to federal red tape,” Chao said.

Philip K. Howard, a longtime critic of government bureaucracy, cites numerous examples of how burdensome regulations stifle projects. One of those: A plan to raise the Bayonne Bridge roadway in New Jersey took five years and a 20,000-page environmental assessment. Writing in The Atlantic in 2016, Howard said a six-year delay, “typical in large projects, increases total costs by more than 100 percent.”

Chao told transportation officials the executive branch is doing what it can to address the problem, “and hopefully comprehensive, bipartisan legislation on infrastructure can be achieved in this Congress to do even more.” We’ll see whether that comes to pass. It needs to.

The Oklahoman Editorial Board

The Oklahoman Editorial Board consists of Kelly Dyer Fry, Publisher, Editor and Vice President of News; Owen Canfield, Opinion Editor; and Ray Carter, Chief Editorial Writer.. To submit a letter to the editor, go to this page or email... Read more ›

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