Trump to Revamp Environmental Law to Speed Up Infrastructure Projects, Pipelines

July 15, 2020 Updated: July 16, 2020

The Trump administration is set to announce one of the biggest deregulatory actions of the president’s tenure in a bid to speed up major infrastructure projects such as bridges, road expansions, and oil pipelines.

President Donald Trump is expected to make the announcement during a planned visit on July 15 to a UPS facility in Atlanta. The White House calendar indicates that Trump is scheduled to deliver remarks headlined “Rebuilding of America’s Infrastructure: Faster, Better, Stronger.”

When he first announced the effort to revamp rules governing the application of the Nixon-era National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in January, the president criticized the way agencies scrutinize new projects under NEPA as an “outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process.”

“The United States can’t compete and prosper if a bureaucratic system holds us back from building what we need,” Trump said at the time.

A major proposed change in January was to set a two-year deadline for completing full environmental impact reviews while less comprehensive assessments would have to be completed within one year.

Mary Neumayr, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), told NPR that, currently, the average time for agencies to complete an environmental impact statement is 4 1/2 years.

“You spend three, four, five years on the environmental review before you ever break ground. That’s a problem,” Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Gray DC in an interview on July 14.

“This proposed rule would modernize and clarify the regulations to facilitate more efficient, effective, and timely NEPA reviews by federal agencies in connection with proposals for agency action,” a CEQ notice of proposed action (pdf) states.

“CEQ has not comprehensively updated its regulations since their promulgation in 1978, more than four decades ago,” the agency said, adding that the proposed changes would “reduce paperwork and delays and promote better decisions consistent with the national environmental policy set forth in section 1010 of NEPA.”

Epoch Times Photo
Heavy equipment at a site where sections of the Dakota Access pipeline are being buried near the town of St. Anthony in Morton County, N.D., on Oct. 5, 2016. (Tom Stromme/The Bismarck Tribune via AP)

The changes are part of a broader drive by the Trump administration to accelerate upgrades to America’s infrastructure and advance the goal of energy independence. Critics argue the move limits the public’s ability to review, comment on, and influence proposed projects.

“This may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.

The Natural Resources Defense Council says the Trump administration’s proposed rule raised the risk of decisions being made without enough consideration to environmental impacts.

“At the end of the day, it would lead to poor decisions, increased litigation, and less transparency,” said Sharon Buccino, a senior director at the environmental group.

The CEQ received more than 1 million comments after the January proposal, according to Caitlin McCoy, a staff attorney for the Harvard Law School Environmental and Energy Law Program.

McCoy said if CEQ fails to demonstrate it gave due consideration to critical comments, it could make the new rule vulnerable in a lawsuit.

“CEQ will need to show that it grappled with these adverse comments and considered all of the important aspects of making these changes, otherwise aspects of the regulations could be ruled arbitrary and capricious,” she said.

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