President Donald Trump plans to announce new changes to the National Environmental Policy Act that reportedly will speed up approval for projects such as pipelines and roadways. Critics say the changes don’t take into account the potential environmental impact or the impact on poor and minority communities.
The possible changes to NEPA will reduce the number and types of projects that are subject to review, along with requiring agencies involved to consider the “cumulative environmental effects.” These would allow more large-scale projects to be expedited.
Trump has been pushing for these regulation changes since the initial proposals were outlined in January.
“America is a nation of builders,” Trump told reporters on Jan. 9. He noted that red tape had delayed key infrastructure projects, comparing the state of some areas to a third-world country.
Some of the changes were met with gratitude from some energy companies that had been pushing for NEPA to be “modernized.”
“NEPA modernization will help America streamline permitting to move job-creating infrastructure projects off the drawing board and into development,” American Petroleum Institute President Mike Sommer said.
There has been a sharp rebuke from environmental advocacy groups.
“What the Trump administration is doing is fundamentally changing those regulations and really gutting them,” Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Sharon Buccino told NPR. “NEPA gives poor and communities of color a say in the projects that will define their communities for decades to come. Rather than listen, the Trump administration’s plan aims to silence such voices.”
Legal experts noted the lifespan of Trump’s proposed changes may hinge on whether or not he is reelected in November. They expect the changes to be dropped by the new president if Trump loses or face court challenges from opposing environmental groups if Trump wins.
“The law requires federal agencies to report the environmental impacts of their actions that significantly affect ‘the quality of the human environment,’” Notre Dame Law School Professor Bruce Huber told NPR. “If the regulations announced today drive agencies to diminish the extent or quality of their reporting, federal courts may very well conclude that their reports do not comply with the law.”