The Trump administration on Thursday proposed to overhaul an environmental law in an effort to ease the way for infrastructure projects such as pipelines.
The proposed regulations, which drew pushback from environmental advocates, would set time and page limits for reviews of the environmental impacts projects could have, which are required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Under the plan, which would be the first major change to the statute in roughly four decades, environmental reviews would only be allowed to look at effects that are “reasonably foreseeable,” which could be used to limit the consideration of future climate change impacts. It could help the administration advance large pipeline projects such as the Keystone XL, which has been stalled for years over environmental concerns.
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The plan also proposes nixing reviews for some projects. Environmental assessments under the law are triggered for projects that have any level of federal government funding. The proposal would exempt some projects from review if the government only provides minimal funding.
Administration officials said that these reviews are complex and time consuming. They said they take an average of four and a half years and can be more than 1,000 pages long.
“The reality is that the needless red tape has, over time, lowered the expectations of American exceptionalism and excellence,” Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt told reporters on Thursday. “And that is backwards, and this is a big step forward for the American people and for common sense.”
The proposal would change implementation of the statute, but not the law itself.
Environmental groups are likely to sue over the changes.
“This law was built on decades of activism from people who wanted a say in decisions affecting their health, their lives, their communities, and their environment,” Stephen Schima, a senior legislative counsel for Earthjustice, said in a statement. “By stacking the deck for corporate polluters and eviscerating public participation, this administration is trashing that legacy. Without this law, the government will have an easier time letting dirty industry tear down trees, put up refineries next to children’s schools, and risk our health. Worse still, this proposal will threaten to silence the voices of the very people government should be listening to – the people living on the front lines of the climate crisis.”
They say the proposal could strip people of an important legal tool to challenge adverse impacts infrastructure projects could have on their communities.
“We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship,” Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “Americans deserve to have their voices heard before their families’ health and well-being are put at risk by projects that bring unwanted and unnecessary pollution and disruption into their communities.”
The proposed rule will be published in the Federal Register on Friday, and the public will have a 60-day period to comment on it.