How Trump Is Changing Architecture

The Trump administration has unleashed ruthless cutbacks to government rules and regulations related to the construction industry.

Nathaniel Bahadursingh Nathaniel Bahadursingh

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The Trump administration has not been shy with its approach to peel back government rules and regulations — in fact, it’s been a priority. Many of the rollbacks have been in relation to environmental rules that the administration sees as taxing to the fossil fuel industry and other big businesses. According to The New York Times, there are more than 80 environmental rules and regulations that are on the way out under this administration.

This coupled with trade disputes, which impacts the price and availability of certain materials, has had a direct effect on the construction and architecture industries. Below are some of the most significant changes seen under Trump that have direct consequences on the world of architecture. 

President Trump announcing the “streamlining” of permitting requirements for infrastructure projects; image via The New York Times

Removing the Standard Environmental Review Process

The Trump administration has relaxed the environmental review process for federal infrastructure projects, such as for roads and bridges, oil and gas development, and pipeline construction. This move seeks to eliminate and streamline some permitting regulations and to speed up the process of constructing infrastructure.

It puts in place a “one federal decision policy”, in which one lead federal agency works with others to complete environmental reviews and other permitting decisions for a given project. This order rolls back standards that required the federal government to account for climate change and sea-level rise when building infrastructure. As a result, the well-being of communities, public health, worker safety and the natural environment are all at increased risk of degradation.

Energy efficiency rules are being scaled back for light bulbs; Photo by Charles Krupa

Deregulating Lights

The Trump administration repealed an Obama-era regulation that would have doubled the number of light bulbs subject to energy-efficiency standards. The regulation, which was slated to start in 2020, would have forced Americans to use much more energy-efficient light bulbs. Specifically, light bulbs would have to have been either LEDs or fluorescent to meet the new efficiency standards.

According to The New York Times, eliminating inefficient bulbs nationwide would have saved electricity equivalent to the output of at least 25 large power plants. The Trump administration believes the repeal will benefit consumers by keeping prices low; however, there doesn’t appear to be any regard for the long-term environmental cost of this move.

The Trump administration imposed tariffs on Canadian lumber, which is used to build many American homes; Photo by Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press, via Associated Press

Lumber Tariffs

Following a petition filed by the United States lumber industry asking for relief from Canadian subsidized lumber, the Trump administration placed import duties averaging 21% on timber from Canada. As a result, the cost of 1,000 board feet of western Canadian lumber rose nearly 80% in 2018, according to Architect Magazine.

This is an issue because almost all of the imported lumber used in the U.S. originates from Canada. Architect Magazine further states that this means builders are paying an average of $1,350 more per home. At a time when homes are already becoming less affordable due to other economic factors, these tariffs are serving to exacerbate the problem across the U.S.

Asbestos is legally allowed back into U.S. manufacturing under a series of loopholes by the EPA; image courtesy Mesothelioma + Asbestos Awareness Center

Allowing Asbestos Back Into Construction

Under Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, it is now easier for companies to introduce new uses of asbestos-containing products in the United States. It is legally allowed back into U.S. manufacturing under a series of loopholes by the EPA. According to Fast Company, last year the EPA authorized a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR), which allows the distribution of products containing asbestos on a case-by-case basis. The agency has significantly diminished the way it evaluates the risk of potentially harmful chemical substances.

The EPA’s new framework details how it would “no longer consider the effect or presence of substances in the air, ground, or water in its risk assessments,” according to Fast Company. The health risks associated with Asbestos is especially significant for workers who extract and handle the material. As stated by The Architect’s Newspaper, it is now largely the responsibility of local and state governments, companies, informed consumers, sustainable building-product manufacturers and architects to counter these federal moves.

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