President Trump Proposes Sweeping Rollback of Environmental Oversight

President Trump gesturing while speaking in front of a small group of supporters

In what could be the administration's broadest attack yet on federal environmental regulations, the Trump administration on Thursday proposed making it easier to approve major energy and infrastructure projects, including new highways and pipelines, without full consideration of their environmental impact or their effects on climate change.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued the notice of proposed rulemaking, which calls for modernizing NEPA.

Reactions from industry, environmentalists, Republicans and Democrats were predictable for a rule that would would establish time limits of two years for completion of environmental impact statements and one year for completion of environmental assessments.

"While there may be ways to improve the process to both better protect the environment and provide more certainty to industry, this is simply another give-away to corporate polluters who will put profit before clean air and clean water, and the health of our communities", he said.

The new regulations would set deadlines for how long a review of a project can take: one year for smaller projects and two years for larger ones, The New York Times explained. The White House says the rule would "reduce unnecessary burdens and delays for environmental reviews".

"Losing NEPA means we lose our ability to probably both know what the environmental impacts are gonna be for a project and even knowing what projects are being proposed", said Casi Callaway, executive director of the Mobile Baykeeper, a Gulf Coast-based environmental group.

In 1998, the Baykeeper was able to use NEPA provisions to oppose the Highway 98 construction plan because of the potential it would pollute Mobile's public drinking water.

EIS's can take multiple years to be fully completed, which causes a significant delay to project timelines.


"Essentially it would go straight through the only maritime forest left on the northern Gulf Coast", said Callaway.

In his remarks Thursday, Trump blamed existing rules for the lack new infrastructure and termed the current legal environmental landscape a "regulatory nightmare". The government's proposal noted that some simple reviews were taking as long as six years. And allowing merely 60 days for public comment on these sweeping changes is not almost enough time to fully consider its broad, far-reaching implications.

Some environmental groups say they will challenge Trump's order in court. The Trump administration is responding to that complaint by revising the rules the govern how the law is implemented.

The proposed regulations show why. If enacted, this proposal would be the first time in over forty years that the bedrock environmental regulation has been overhauled. "It's just a box the federal government has to check off", Lawrence said.

According to CEQ, the average length of a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement is now 600 pages and takes 4.5 years to conclude.

"The National Association of Realtors is confident that the reforms announced today will remove the barriers standing in the way of infrastructure improvements that stimulate economic growth and create jobs", National Association of Realtors President Vince Malta said January 9. "We don't want it to be at the detriment of the environment that you do it".

White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Mary Neumayr told NPR that the average environmental impact statement now takes four and a half years to complete, and the average for highways takes seven years, a delay that "deprives Americans of the benefits of modernized bridges and roads that enable them to get home to their families", she said.

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