U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday formally announced changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a move that many environmentalists fear will make it harder for people to have a say in the impact of large infrastructure projects on them,media reported. The new rules speed up licensing of major infrastructure projects such as pipelines and highways by shortening the environmental review process.
The purpose of the environmental review is to determine whether a project will in some way significantly change the environment surrounding the project. The process could take years, involving scientific research, intense analysis and public comment on the proposal. The new rules, first proposed in January, limit environmental reviews to two years – although the process often takes twice as long. The changes would also allow projects that are not largely federally funded to bypass environmental scrutiny altogether. The revised rules also allow federal agencies to ignore climate change when evaluating.
“This proposal affects almost every major decision the federal government makes that affects the environment,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told Trump when he introduced the proposed changes in January. “I believe this will be the most important deregulation proposal you will eventually implement.”
NEPA has helped Native American tribes and pipeline opponents to their recent victories. A federal judge ruled in March that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers violated the NEPA when it issued a license for the Dakota Access Pipeline and ordered the pipeline to close earlier this month during an environmental review. Pipeline opponents successfully claimed in 2018 that the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline violated the NEPA.
While Wednesday’s changes will not affect pipeline decisions already made, environmental advocates and lawyers say it will be harder to challenge a major new infrastructure project in the future.
” (Trump) and his administration have failed to take into account the impact their actions will have on our most vulnerable people — they’ve been affected by pollution, lack of health care, structural racism and other environmental injustices,” Mustafa Santiago Ali, a former deputy administrator of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice, said in a statement Wednesday. “This is callous and reckless. It’s really that simple. “
At an event in Atlanta, Mr. Trump announced the final rules. “We are proclaiming the proud tradition of the United States as a nation of builders and a country that can get things done, because with these terrible roadblocks in front of us, no matter how good you are,” he said. “
The new rules have been praised by the American Petroleum Institute, but are expected to be challenged in court by environmental groups.