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Trump, Biden Approach U.S. Job Infrastructure In Vastly Different Plans


Voters are getting a chance this week to hear what the candidates for president think about infrastructure. President Trump will be in Atlanta today. He is expected to announce big changes to a significant environmental law. And yesterday, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden laid out his climate change plan.

NPR's Jeff Brady has been looking at both. Hi, Jeff.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So what's President Trump announcing in Atlanta today?

BRADY: He is going to announce new regulations for the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, usually just called NEPA. It requires federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of big projects. And it gives the public the ability to comment and be involved in that decision-making process. President Trump says the NEPA regulations need to be streamlined. He says the process takes too long and stops new infrastructure from being built. Here's what he said back in January when the changes were proposed.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But this is just the beginning? We'll not stop until our nation's gleaming new infrastructure has made America the envy of the world again. It used to be the envy of the world, and now we're like a Third World country. It's really sad.

BRADY: Trump is going to Atlanta to make this announcement because one of the first projects the administration wants approved under these new regulations is a big freeway expansion south of the city.

KING: So you've pointed out that only Congress can change the National Environmental Policy Act, NEPA. What specifically is the president trying to do here?

BRADY: We don't have all the details yet, but we know that the new regulations include much shorter deadlines. The agencies will have to finish their environmental reviews within two years. Currently, the average is about 4 1/2 years. Some projects - highway projects, specifically - take even longer. And there likely will be some new limits on public comments. That's getting a lot of criticism from environmental groups because one of the main reasons for NEPA was to give voice to poor and minority communities that often end up with these polluting, you know, highways and pipelines and chemical plants in their neighborhoods.

The new regulations also likely will reduce what types and number of projects that get this intense NEPA review. And the administration is expected to drop a requirement that agencies consider the cumulative effects of projects. That could include their impact on climate change, and this is designed to get big projects, it all approved faster. That's the whole goal here.

KING: OK. So less oversight is basically the deal - less oversight and faster movement. So in the meantime, Joe Biden was in Delaware yesterday, and he laid out his climate change plan. What's he proposing, and how does it compare to what President Trump is proposing?

BRADY: Right. Well, President Trump is mostly focused on advancing fossil fuels. It's completely opposite for Joe Biden and his campaign. But the end goal - the stated end goal is the same here - creating jobs and improving the economy. Biden's plan would spend $2 trillion to speed up transition to cleaner energy for transportation and buildings. He's aiming for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. And Biden is talking about incentives for people to buy electric cars and constructing much more efficient homes and businesses. Speaking in Delaware yesterday, Biden said his plan creates millions of new jobs in the process.


JOE BIDEN: I know that climate change is a challenge that's going to define our American future. I know meeting the challenge would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to jolt new life into our economy, strengthen our global leadership, protect our planet for future generations.

BRADY: Now, his plan would mean some pretty big changes for how we all live and get around. But it does echo some messages we're hearing from other leaders around the world.

KING: NPR's Jeff Brady. Thanks, Jeff.

BRADY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jeff Brady is a National Desk Correspondent based in Philadelphia, where he covers energy issues and climate change. Brady helped establish NPR's environment and energy collaborative which brings together NPR and Member station reporters from across the country to cover the big stories involving the natural world.