Published: Sun, January 12, 2020
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Trump administration to accelerate environmental reviews for infrastructure projects

Trump administration to accelerate environmental reviews for infrastructure projects

The proposed rule announced by the White House's Council on Environmental Quality on Thursday would be the first major shift to implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act in four decades and is meant to streamline the federal environmental review process by allowing the government to approve pipelines and highways at a more efficient clip. The rules also put page limits on environmental impact statements, and require the consideration only of "effects that are reasonably foreseeable and have a close causal relationship to the proposed action", a definition that environmentalists say will remove long-term climate impacts from consideration. The law was signed by Richard Nixon in 1971 following national outrage over the 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara, California.

When a reporter asked Trump Thursday whether he still believes climate change is a hoax, the president said it is a real problem, but added that the USA has the cleanest air and water on Earth. "Nothing compares to what Donald Trump is doing".

"The United States can't compete and prosper if a bureaucratic system holds us back from building what we need", Trump said at the White House, surrounded by Cabinet secretaries, industry leaders and workers in hard hats.

"Railroads agree that more can and must be done to expedite routine maintenance and other critical construction projects without compromising important environmental protections", Jefferies said. The builders aren't happy, nobody's happy.

Environmental groups were not satisfied that the moves would sufficiently protect the environment, wildlife habitats and the health of American communities impacted by major infrastructure projects. Still, the proposal raises the stakes for environmentalists fearful of what the changes could mean for efforts to combat climate change. "Agencies do change what they're proposing because it looks like the impacts are going to be bad".

Under the new proposal, federal permitting agencies and regulators would not be obliged to assess and factor in the impact on climate of major infrastructure projects, including oil pipelines.

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White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Mary Neumayr told NPR that the average environmental impact statement now takes four and a half years to complete, and the average for highways takes seven years, a delay that "deprives Americans of the benefits of modernized bridges and roads that enable them to get home to their families", she said. Since President Trump came to power almost three years ago, he has made it common policy to roll back environmental regulations, making it easier for industry to avoid certain checks and balances created under Obama and previous presidents.

"The proposed rule would provide for a faster process while ensuring that agencies analyze and consider the environmental impacts proposed actions and reasonable alternatives to address significant impacts", Neumayr said.

The new regulations would also exempt confined animal feeding operations that have federal loans or loan guarantees, Buschele said, and they would introduce a bond requirement for anyone trying to get the court to halt a federal action. Courts have interpreted that requirement as a mandate to study the effects of allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Under the new regulations, NPR explained, agencies would have to consider the impacts of building a pipeline, but not the impacts of the oil or gas it would transport. These regulations serve as a key tool for assuring the federal government acts as a responsible trustee for future generations.

Under the administration's proposal companies would also be allowed to conduct their own environmental reviews.

"This is a clearly a conflict of interest", Center for American Progress Senior Vice President Christy Goldfuss told NPR.

Indeed, legal experts agree it may not.

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