Trump Moves to Fast-Track Projects by Cutting Environmental Review

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Trump administration on Thursday proposed scaling back a key environmental law to reduce the time it takes to assess the environmental impact of major federal projects like oil pipelines.

President Donald Trump delivers remarks on proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act on Thursday. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

The National Environmental Policy Act, which was first signed into law in 1970, requires pipelines, highways and other federal construction projects to first examine the environmental impact of those actions. The law also requires federal agencies to hold a public comment period for input on these projects, among other provisions.

On average, those assessments and studies can take four and a half years and require thousands of pages to be submitted to federal agencies. Studies for Federal Highway Administration projects, for example, take nearly seven years.

Senior administration officials said during a conference call Thursday that the update to the law will look to cut the length of these environmental impact studies down to two years and will shorten environmental assessments to one year. Chiefly, these updates will clarify regulatory requirements, revise regulations of NEPA to reflect current technology and improve format and readability of these regulations, they said.

Anne Bradbury, head of an independent oil and gas producers trade group, said during the call that some of the proposed changes will speed up permitting of oil projects, including pipelines, on federal lands.

Public input on these projects will also be accelerated, officials said, by requiring a comment period be held earlier in the process. Comments must be specific and timely and agencies will be required to summarize them.

Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said during the call that President Donald Trump will “deliver a home run … by cutting red tape that has paralyzed decision making” on such projects.

In a press briefing on the proposed rule update Thursday, Trump said some of the existing NEPA regulations “waste money, keep projects from breaking ground and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers.”

He said updating them has been a top priority of his administration since day one.

“These proposed reforms will reduce traffic in our cities, connect our rural communities and get Americans where they need to go more quickly and more safely,” Trump said.

The president said, for example, an environmental review for the impact of a new runway in Seattle took two decades. He argued the U.S. would not be able to prosper in the coming years if regulations held back construction.

The proposed regulatory rollback will be published in the Federal Register in the coming days and will then be given a 60-day public comment period.

Congressman Gerald Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, said in an interview Thursday that he remembered former President Barack Obama announcing updates to environmental regulations but those announcements were easier to accept at face value.

It was harder to believe updates made by the Trump administration would be beneficial to the environment, he said, because the president “has tried to dismantle every regulation, every executive order that protected the environment.”

“So now I’m supposed to accept, on faith, that when it comes to streamlining NEPA their motivation is pure, that they’re just making t more efficient,” Connolly said. “I’m sorry, that doesn’t pass the giggle test for credibility.”

He added, “It’s incumbent upon all of us to carefully review these changes and asses the impact the many impacts they are likely to have on the environment.”

Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, a Democrat from Michigan, said in an interview that rolling back the NEPA regulations will contribute to the extinction of species if federal agencies don’t properly research a project’s impact on the area.

“I want common sense legislation. You don’t want it to take eight years, [but] you need to do an environmental review when you’re building big projects like this,” Dingell said Thursday.

“There are laws on the books for a reason. And by the way, it’s been on the books for 50 years and we’re a lot more worried about global climate change now then we were then,” she added. “It’s more important, not less important.”

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