Trump to roll back environmental protections, reducing oversight of oil pipelines and other projects

President proposes 'overhaul' of federal review process that would ignore climate change impacts when considering projects

Alex Woodward
New York
Thursday 09 January 2020 18:52 GMT
Donald Trump to roll back environmental protections

As the US continues to face dramatic climate threats, Donald Trump is planning to roll back crucial environmental protections to allow oil companies and other industrial groups to break ground without meaningful federal oversight.

The president's proposed changes would remove consideration for a project's carbon footprint from federal assessments, effectively gutting the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires reviews of large-scale infrastructure projects before they're approved.

Environmental advocates, tribal groups and people living in industrial corridors have relied on the 50-year-old law to block harmful projects and pressure companies to abide by environmental regulations.

But industry groups with powerful lobby arms and sympathetic ears in Washington DC have urged politicians to ease those restrictions, which they say impede projects and burden companies with lengthy permitting processes.

On the law's 50th anniversary on 1 January, the president appeared to echo their comments, saying the law "can increase costs, derail important projects, and threaten jobs for American workers and labour union members".

The proposed rewrite would also narrow the scope of environmental reviews for privately funded construction projects, potentially giving a green-light to controversial oil pipeline projects and other large-scale construction by significantly cutting down the timeline for a project's review period.

At a White House announcement, Mr Trump said the new rules were a "historic step to slash job killing regulations" and "completely overhauling the dysfunctional, bureaucratic" review system. The proposal would cut a permitting and review period to two years.

He compared today's more-thorough review processes to the relatively speedy construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, which took four years and was completed in 1937, and the Hoover Dam, which took five years and was completed in 1936. (More than 100 people were killed during the construction of the dam, which also significantly impacted Colorado River habitats and changed the natural flow of the river.)

US Interior Secretary David Bernhardt called the proposal the administration's "most significant deregulatory" effort, which will affect "virtually every decision made by the federal government" when it comes to environmental protection.

Federal agencies prepare roughly 170 environmental impact statements and conduct thousands of environmental assessments statements each year, according to the White House.

The changes are likely to meet legal challenges from environmental conservation groups, which are unanimously opposing the administration's attempt to rewrite oversight rules.

Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune called the president's proposal a "shameless attack on our clean air and water, the climate, and our families' health".

He said the proposal "is nothing more than an attempt to write Donald Trump's climate denial into official government policy".

"Communities across the country are already feeling the effects of climate change, but rather than protect them, Trump is pulling out all the stops to silence their voices and further prop up his corporate polluter friends."

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