Support and Opposition to Trump Administration Changes to NEPA

The Trump administration is making changes to an environmental act that was signed into law in 1970.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires Federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of proposed major Federal actions that significantly affect the quality of the human environment. The administration released a final rule Wednesday that the administration says will modernize and streamline regulations under the act. President Donald Trump calls the act the single biggest obstacle to major projects. Opponents like Earth Justice say the new rule exempts many projects from the public review process that NEPA requires and “allows agencies to issue permits without considering the climate impacts of projects such as coal mines or pipelines.”

Among other things, the changes establish a two-year time limit for the completion of federal environmental impact statements and a one-year limit for environmental assessments. The new rule would also promote information sharing and efficiency among federal agencies as well as better collaboration with state, local and tribal governments.  Opponents say it dismantles a crucial safeguard of community health and wild lands.

U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) is a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He supports the changes.

“Infrastructure, whether it’s for mitigating natural disasters, producing energy or transporting people and goods, serves as the backbone of our economy,” Hoeven said in a statement. “As we’ve seen with Dakota Access and other projects bogged down through litigation, the federal NEPA review process has often resulted in inflated costs and significant delays for a wide range of vital projects across our nation. This final rule is a welcome effort that builds on our record of providing regulatory certainty for future projects and will help taxpayer dollars go further as we work to build and repair the nation’s infrastructure.”

The National Environmental Policy Act is considered one of the nation’s foundational environmental protections. Opponents to the changes say they weaken the law.

Brett Hartl is the Government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, a nonprofit conservation organization. He says in a statement “This may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years. The Trump administration is turning back the clock to when rivers caught fire, our air was unbreathable, and our most beloved wildlife was spiraling toward extinction. The foundational law of the modern environmental movement has been turned into a rubber stamp to enrich for-profit corporations, and we doubt the courts will stand for that.”

The statement from the center says “data collected by federal agencies show that NEPA works well and as intended, despite unproven rhetoric by right-wing industry groups regarding project delays. For instance, more than 192,000 projects, worth about $300 billion, efficiently went through the NEPA process as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The NEPA process also has been vital in raising concerns about environmentally destructive projects, including the Keystone XL pipeline.”

U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) is also a supporter of the changes. In a statement, Cramer says “President Trump wants to rebuild America’s infrastructure with fewer hurdles from Washington’s overbearing bureaucracy. The National Environmental Policy Act regulations are outdated, burdensome, and unnecessarily complicated. It should not take longer to get the government’s approval for a project than it would take to build it. I support the finalized rule and call on my colleagues to support passing a comprehensive infrastructure package, incorporating the highway reauthorization and water infrastructure bills we unanimously passed through the Environment and Public Works committee.”

In a statement, the environmental organization Earth Justice says “the new rule exempts many projects from the public review process that NEPA requires. It also allows agencies to issue permits without considering the climate impacts of projects such as coal mines or pipelines. Polluter groups like the American Petroleum Institute have long lobbied for such changes. Trump and his industry allies have claimed that “permitting reform” is necessary in order to conduct infrastructure upgrades. This is false. The Treasury Department has noted that “a lack of funds is by far the most common challenge to completing” major infrastructure projects.”

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