Chao defends Trump infrastructure plan; Senate passage uncertain in 2018

Me Photo Headshot
Updated Mar 10, 2018
U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine ChaoU.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao defended the Trump administration’s infrastructure plan before a Senate committee March 1, where she met resistance from Democrats over the plan’s call for speeding up environmental permits and its reliance on private funding.

Meanwhile, some top Republican senators are saying passage of the plan is not likely this year, as there is not enough time with other pressing issues also being taken up, according to a Bloomberg report. Republicans in the House, however, appear more optimistic about passage in 2018, the Bloomberg article indicated.

Much of the pushback on the plan centers on its funding. The plan calls for $200 billion in federal money spread over 10 years, which the administration says will be used to attract $1.3 trillion in private, state and local funding.

In defending the plan, Chao said that the private sector is ready to step up, but it needs assurance on speedier permit approvals.

“If the permitting process can be sped up, it will allow more projects to be available for the private sector to invest,” Chao said, according to the Washington Examiner.

The plan calls for environmental reviews to be conducted within 21 months.

She said the administration would not dilute environmental protection, according to a Roll Call article. Instead, she said, it would look to get rid of redundancies in the permitting process.

As for funding, Trump indicated support for a 25-cent gas-tax increase over five years during a recent meeting with lawmakers, according to media reports. So far, no official word has come from the White House on the gas tax. When asked during her testimony, Chao said she could not comment on private conversations.

Chao has previously said that a gas tax, though not ideal, is on the table for consideration by the White House.