Fast track for telecoms projects ordered by Trump

25 January 2017 by Steve Blum
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Telecommunications finally got a shout out from the new administration as president Trump included it in a list of the sort of infrastructure projects he considers to be a high priority and, consequently, deserving of quick federal environmental reviews. A low profile executive order issued yesterday put it plainly

It is the policy of the executive branch to streamline and expedite, in a manner consistent with law, environmental reviews and approvals for all infrastructure projects, especially projects that are a high priority for the Nation, such as improving the U.S. electric grid and telecommunications systems and repairing and upgrading critical port facilities, airports, pipelines, bridges, and highways.

Qualifying projects will be ramrodded through federal review processes. At least to the extent possible, which actually might not be all that much. There’s the usual boilerplate about “nothing in this order shall be construed” and “consistent with applicable law”, so ample opportunity remains for rear guard action.

It accompanied higher profile announcements about the resurrection of less environmentally benign pipeline projects. Taken in that context, it might have been motivated by considerations that have nothing to do with building broadband infrastructure. But it’s the first mention of telecoms that I’ve seen in the rapidly growing pile of proclamations coming out of the white house, and that’s encouraging.

The chair of the white house council on environmental quality has final say on which projects get the express treatment, but state governors and top federal political appointees can make the request. Or if you happen to have a back channel to the white house, that’ll work too: the chair can do it “on his or her own initiative”.

Trump’s decree has no effect on Californian agencies or review processes. It’s purely federal. But it could speed up projects and reduce costs in rural California, where the federal government controls vast tracts of land that fiber routes often pass through, and mountain tops that are critical for wireless facilities.