Jan. 9 (UPI) — Aiming to “modernize” U.S. environmental law, President Donald Trump proposed sweeping rule changes on Thursday for the National Environmental Policy Act, in an effort to greenlight private infrastructure projects like oil and gas pipelines at a quicker pace.
Trump detailed the changes at the White House, with economic adviser Larry Kudlow, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. He said the changes are necessary because existing requirements under the 1970 law create an “outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process” that stifles new private infrastructure projects.
“America is a nation of builders,” Trump said, adding that existing law shows “big government at its absolute worst.”
Regulations of the environmental law, which are considered by supporters a bedrock environmental statute, require detailed environmental reviews for major private projects seeking federal funding, such new oil and gas pipelines. Those reviews must include environmental impact assessments for how they will affect air quality and wildlife habitats.
Under Trump’s proposal, NEPA regulations would be narrowed to establish a two-year limit to finish impact statements and a one-year limit for environmental assessments.
Perhaps the most controversial change would eliminate a requirement for public agencies to consider the “cumulative” consequences of new projects, or how they impact climate change.
In his remarks Thursday, Trump blamed existing rules for the lack new infrastructure and termed the current legal environmental landscape a “regulatory nightmare.”
Republican proponents applauded the move, saying NEPA has repeatedly been used by environmentalists to block “critical infrastructure projects.”
“Fringe-left special interest groups will continue to scream bloody murder, but these actions by President Trump will ensure the government works better for all,” said Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, chairman of House Republicans’ Western Caucus.
Democratic lawmakers and environmentalists say Trump’s proposal is an “assault on environmental justice,” and vowed to fight it in Congress.
“[NEPA] is one of the only laws that allows impacted communities to voice their concerns about projects that could harm their health, environment and future,” Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts tweeted. “This attack on NEPA is the latest and most dangerous front yet in the Trump administration’s assault on environmental justice.”