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Trump’s Infrastructure Plan Would Privatize Services and Cut Investments in Urban Areas

Think Progress

For decades, the federal government has neglected the infrastructure of Baltimore and other urban areas across the country -- allowing sewage systems to leak, water pipes to burst, and roads to become pock-marked with holes.

So, when Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail last year that he would invest a trillion dollars rebuilding American infrastructure, it seemed like the one area where urbanites and suburbanites, Democrats and Republicans, Trump and even Bernie Sanders, could potentially agree. 

It’s a patriotic impulse:  We need to rebuild a crumbling America.  But then, last week, Trump held a press conference to announce his actual plans. As it turns out, instead of spending more taxpayer money to improve America’s roads, bridges and pipes, Trump plans to do to the opposite.

Trump proposes to cut back spending on federal capital investment grants. This would halt many job-creating infrastructure projects that have long been in the works in Pittsburgh, New York, Phoenix and nearly 50 other cities.

Trump’s proposed budget would also eliminate a federal program called TIGER (an acronym for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery). Last year, TIGER provided $10 million for the rebuilding of the North Avenue in Baltimore.

Trump does not want to boost public works projects like this. Instead, he wants to help private delopers like himself overcome government environmental reviews for private development projects.

“We are here today,” Trump said during his press conference, “to focus on solving one of the biggest obstacles to creating this new and desperately needed infrastructure. And that is the painfully slow, costly, and time-consuming process of getting permits and approvals to build.  And I also knew that from the private sector.”

As an example, Trump highlighted the multi-year environmental review process for the construction of Maryland’s controversial Intercounty Connector (or “ICC”) toll highway project in the Washington suburbs, which destroyed wetlands and forested areas and encouraged more sprawl.

“They spent $29 million for an environmental report weighing 70 pounds and costing $24,000 per page,” Trump said of the report.  “So I’m going to show it.”

To demonstrate his contempt for idea of environmental studies, Trump threw binders full of ICC studies on the floor as the audience laughed and applauded. After loudly dumping the reports on the stage, he quipped: “nobody’s going to read it.” 

Although his audience chuckled, this is not funny.  We have a President who mocks studies and reading; ignores the scientific consensus on climate change; and pulls the U.S. out of an international climate treaty.

Voters put Trump in office believing he would invest a trillion dollars in infrastructure.  But now his aides say his administration will only invest perhaps 20 percent of that. Instead, Trump is proposing giveaways for politically-connected businessmen like himself, including the rubber-stamping of environmental reviews and the privatization of highways, bridges, and other public services like air traffic control systems.

The big picture here is that the administration wants to move America away from the whole idea of public services. Instead of caring for our neighbors, the American dream would become Darwinism and private profit, selfishness and short-sightedness. 

Tom Pelton, a national award-winning environmental journalist, has hosted "The Environment in Focus" since 2007. He also works as director of communications for the Environmental Integrity Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health. From 1997 until 2008, he was a journalist for The Baltimore Sun, where he was twice named one of the best environmental reporters in America by the Society of Environmental Journalists.