Trump ditches environment regulations to speed up building projects

Democrats say reviews of federal projects will ignore issues such as climate change

President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Wednesday. Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

President Donald Trump walks across the South Lawn of the White House in Washington on Wednesday. Photograph: Anna Moneymaker/The New York Times

 

US president Donald Trump has announced final plans to expedite permitting for infrastructure like oil pipelines and road expansions, a move that critics say will sidestep the need for public input, especially from low-income and minority communities.

The proposal to change how the 50-year-old bedrock National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa) is implemented is part of Mr Trump’s broader campaign to curtail environmental regulations.

The final rule says that federal agencies need not factor in the “cumulative impacts” of a project, which could include its impact on climate change and have significant and long-lasting consequences.

“Today’s action is part of my administration’s fierce commitment to slashing the web of needless bureaucracy that is holding back our citizens,” Mr Trump said in a speech at the UPS Hapeville Airport Hub in Atlanta.

He said one major project that will get an expedited review is the I-7five lane expansion project from Atlanta to Macon, Georgia.

Mr Trump’s efforts have often been blocked or slowed down by the courts after lawsuits.

Last week, a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access pipeline to shut down because the US Army Corps of Engineers had failed to do an adequate Nepa impact study, and the Supreme Court blocked construction of the Keystone XL line from Canada pending a deeper environmental review.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed the changes to Nepa in January, kicking off a public comment period. Officials had called the proposal “the most significant deregulatory proposal” of the Trump administration.

The final rule doesn’t differ significantly from the draft proposal, which sets a two-year deadline for environmental impact statements and a one-year deadline for less stringent environmental assessments.

“This change means that reviews of big federal projects will ignore massive problems like climate change, even as some of our most important financial institutions warn of the threat it poses,” said Democratic senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Senate environment committee.

Environmental groups also said that watering down Nepa deprives low income and minority communities, often in the shadow of large federal projects, of input.

Energy and other industry groups applauded the changes.

“The new rule updates ... regulations by reducing unnecessary paperwork, setting timelines for environmental reviews and reduces frivolous litigation efforts designed to simply stall or delay vital infrastructure projects,” said Independent Petroleum Association of America president Barry Russell. – Reuters