ATLANTA -- President Donald Trump used a brief trip to Atlanta on Wednesday to tout changes to the federal environmental review process, an overhaul he said would speed the permitting of infrastructure projects nationwide.
In a 41-minute address at UPS' airport hub at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, Trump said his administration's move would have a major effect on the construction of new highways, pipelines and power plants. Developers often wait years for approval as they navigate the byzantine regulatory process, he said.
"For decades, the single biggest obstacle to building a modern transportation system has been the mountains and mountains of bureaucratic red tape in Washington, D.C.," Trump told a crowd of more than 100 UPS employees, executives and Republican elected officials. "All of that ends today."
Meanwhile, Democrats and critics warned that the Trump administration was undoing one of the country's most effective environmental laws, one that's provided a critical safeguard for low-income and minority communities that are disproportionately located near heavy-polluting industrial operations.
The White House's moves centered on the National Environmental Policy Act, a Nixon-era law that requires federal agencies to study the environmental impact and take public comments on proposed infrastructure projects before permits are issued.
The law's critics, including chemical firms and energy companies, say the process is often too burdensome and that opponents can hold up projects for years in court, driving up the costs or blocking them entirely.
Recently, lawsuits slowed the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, two projects the president supported.
Trump's changes would shorten the bulk of the environmental review process to less than two years and restrict how federal agencies can take climate change into account when approving new projects.
"Together we're reclaiming America's proud heritage as a nation of builders and a nation that can get things done," said Trump, a developer.
Ahead of his visit, the president's critics framed him as blind to the racial disparities of the nation, particularly on environmental issues.