Updated Wednesday at 6:12 p.m.
President Donald Trump visited Hapeville today to roll out major changes to a 50-year-old federal environmental law with the goal of speeding up infrastructure development. It’s his ninth visit to the state since taking office.
At a UPS hub near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport Trump said that environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act take too long and delay construction.
“Together we’re reclaiming America’s proud heritage as a nation of builders and a nation that can get things done,” he said.
The new rule would limit reviews on major projects to two years.
Critics say the change would cut communities out of having a say about projects in their neighborhoods and that it limits how climate change would be considered. The Southern Environmental Law Center is one group preparing to sue the administration over it.
“This is a blatant and transparent effort from the Trump administration to further silence communities that are not as well connected, not as wealthy, not as valuable to the White House as others,” Kym Hunter, a senior attorney at the center said in a statement.
Trump also assailed voting by mail in his remarks, without providing evidence.
This follows Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s decision to send out more than 6.9 million absentee ballot applications in late March.
“The mail-in ballots is going to be, they’re going to be rigged,” he said. “They’re going to be a terrible situation and you have to be careful in Georgia but you have to be careful everywhere that they’re doing it.”
Trump urged Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to “watch that.”
Georgians voted by mail in record numbers in June, with more than 1.1 million absentee ballots cast. There have been no reports as of yet of fraud or abuse of mail-in voting this year in Georgia.
The local political context was difficult to ignore in the President’s visit.
The state featured prominently in his remarks.
“But especially I appreciate a state called Georgia,” he said. “It’s a special place, it’s a great place.”
Georgia has been controlled by Republicans for nearly 20 years, but margins have been shrinking recently. In the June primary, more Democrats cast ballots than Republicans, and with two senate seats up for election in November, the stakes are high for both parties.
“Republicans from the White House down to the statehouse, they see the same numbers that Georgia Democrats see,” said state Democratic Party Chair Nikema Williams.
The president shouted out Georgia Republicans up and down the ballot by name, from Governor Brian Kemp whom he called a “fighter” to Republican candidates in the competitive 6th and 7th Congressional races, Karen Handel and Rich McCormick.
Notably, he praised two political opponents equally: Senator Kelly Loeffler and her challenger Rep. Doug Collins. Loeffler rode on Air Force One with the president, while Collins — who said he declined to ride on the plane because of Georgia obligations — greeted them on the tarmac with Gov. Brian Kemp.