Trump ‘modernizes’ environmental policy with predictable reactions
President Donald Trump announced that he intends to “modernize and accelerate environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act so that infrastructure can be built in a timely, efficient and affordable manner.”
“By streamlining infrastructure approvals, we’ll further expand America’s unprecedented economic boom. And that’s what we have: we have an economic boom,” Trump said at the announcement ceremony.
The Council on Environmental Quality will receive public input on the proposal for the next 60 days, before issuing a final rule.
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Jennifer Houston was among the industry and labor union representatives present at the White House for the announcement.
Reactions from industry, environmentalists, Republicans and Democrats were predictable for a rule that would establish time limits of two years for completion of environmental impact statements and one year for completion of environmental assessments.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association expressed support for the administration’s plan.
“Regulatory hurdles under NEPA have triggered reliability problems and forced electric co-ops and their communities to endure costly project delays,” said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. “We support the spirit of NEPA, and these sensible modernizations are long overdue. The updated policy will ensure that environmental reviews and decisions involving multiple agencies are synchronized and efficient.”
“These reforms will provide electric co-ops much-needed clarity and certainty as they continue to diversify their energy portfolios and increase the resiliency of their systems. Both necessitate the modernization or construction of new electric transmission and distribution facilities,” Matheson said.
Katie Murtha, vice president of federal government relations at Environment America, said, “For 50 years, NEPA has quietly protected some of our most precious, environmentally sensitive places. It helps federal agencies minimize the environmental impact of the projects they oversee; it allows for public input into all planning efforts; and it established the Council on Environmental Quality — the first time there was a body within the Office of the President focused solely on the environment.
“Without these protections, our environment is put at greater risk because our government will no longer have to look before it leaps. These regulations serve as a key tool for assuring the federal government acts as a responsible trustee for future generations. NEPA is good policy, and it’s wrong to weaken it.”
Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., who is also a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said, “NEPA has only been significantly updated once in its history, more than 30 years ago, and this outdated process imposes significant cost and burdens on new infrastructure and other projects across the nation.”
“Decades of clarifying regulations, judicial review and administrative directives have severely complicated the ability of states, localities and businesses’ to comply with the federal environmental review process,” said Hoeven. “We welcome the administration’s move to assist with modernizing our nation’s infrastructure, which is badly in need of repair and expansion, and we look forward to reviewing the final proposal.”
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Tom Carper, D-Del., said, “Fifty years ago, Republican President Richard Nixon signed the landmark National Environmental Policy Act into law. What followed was decades of environmental progress that went hand in hand with public participation in project planning and the federal decision-making process. For countless American communities, the law has served as a bulwark against projects and other activities that could harm the environment, human health or quality of life.
“On New Year’s Day, President Trump observed the 50th anniversary of NEPA with a presidential message — but rather than actually paying tribute to the enduring legacy of this bedrock law, President Trump was merely paying lip service. Today, just days after the president avowed his commitment to environmental protection, the Trump administration has proposed what could be the most significant effort yet to limit environmental protection.
“NEPA requires federal agencies to engage the public and consider the real environmental costs and potential consequences of all types of projects, for example: the impact of an oil spill to coastal communities, the impact of a new levee or dam on flooding in neighboring communities, the impact of a pipeline explosion for a tribal community, and whether or not a new bridge we build will be washed away by extreme weather fueled by climate change.
“By directing federal agencies to disregard long-term and cumulative impacts of projects, this proposal takes a sledgehammer to decades of legal precedence and puts our communities at risk. It is like putting permanent blinders on, and ignoring reality when deciding whether to build a project. This proposal is particularly dangerous for frontline and vulnerable communities that have already been disproportionately exposed to pollution, such as air pollutants from nearby highways or legacy pollutants from industrial sites.
“Another unacceptable element of this proposal is allowing companies to prepare their own environmental impact statements. We should not be giving self-graded take home exams to polluting companies. And allowing merely 60 days for public comment on these sweeping changes is not nearly enough time to fully consider its broad, far-reaching implications.
“As we examine NEPA’s legacy over the last 50 years, we should be looking to the future. And at a time when we need to be clear-eyed about our climate reality and do everything we can to save our planet, this proposal turns a blind eye to the climate crisis and forsakes our promise to future generations.
“So, rather than starting a conversation about how we can work together to improve and build upon this monumental environmental law, what starts now is our fight to save it,” Carper said. ❖
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