The Trump administration’s rapidly evolving policies on health care, deregulation and infrastructure present the construction industry with numerous opportunities and hazards. Climate change and project labor agreements, two likely policy changes that should be wrapped in bright yellow caution tape, are bound to have far-reaching effects. The American Society of Civil Engineers, which is well known for its advocacy of U.S. infrastructure, has long called for revised engineering standards and codes that would prepare for the impact of climate change. In their first day on the job, Trump’s staffers eradicated White House web pages about the Obama administration’s climate-change policies. Out the window with the web pages are likely to go U.S. cooperation under the Paris Agreements on climate change and Obama’s national standard to limit power-plant carbon emissions.
President Trump has been an assiduous denier of climate change. But former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), Trump’s nominee for energy secretary, during confirmation hearings mysteriously testified that he regrets his former pledge as a candidate to eliminate the U.S. Dept. of Energy and his prior doubts about global warming. What he really believes or will do is a matter of guessing. Trump’s choice to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, somewhat evasively says that the degree of climate change is subject to debate.
Among the most heartening events in the days following the election was the uprising by American Institute of Architects members, who have been leaders in conserving energy and limiting carbon emissions. The institute’s chief executive may have delivered a too conciliatory welcome-to-Washington message to the Trump administration, but on climate change, AIA members stayed true to their principles. We hope they remain feisty on this subject. Trump can do a lot, but he can’t repeal science.
The new president can rescind Presidents Clinton’s and Obama’s executive orders that encourage project labor agreements on big, federally funded public works. Such agreements, which lock up work on big jobs for union employers, have become a cornerstone of building-trades advocacy. The American Council of Engineering Companies and two key contractor associations have fought the PLAs. It is almost unimaginable that a Trump administration that enjoyed no support from the building trades, and Labor Secretary Nominee Andrew Puzder, who has opposed the minimum wage, will allow the pro-PLA executive order to stand.
Out of all this change likely will come more policy determined on the state level. In the past, construction has managed sometimes to come together to lobby Congress effectively. When the Trump administration’s policies are fully understood, infrastructure renewal may provide the unifying cause.