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Trump Targets Environmental Law to Speed New Pipelines, Other Infrastructure Projects

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In a move that could substantially increase the potential for devastating pipeline explosions and other ecological disasters, the Trump administration is preparing to gut one of the nation’s most important environmental safety laws.

Proposal Would Drastically Change How NEPA is Implemented

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) became law a little over 50 years ago and requires federal agencies to conduct detailed environmental assessments of major infrastructure projects, including new pipeline construction.

Environmentalists insist that NEPA mitigates the impacts pipelines, power plants, oil and gas drilling, airports, highways and other developments have on the air, water and land. But during a speech at the White House on January 9th, President Donald Trump called NEPA “big government at its worst” and insisted an overhaul is necessary to ensure the United States remains competitive.

That same day, the White House Council on Environmental Quality proposed new rules that would drastically change the way NEPA is implemented by, among other things, narrowing the range of projects subject to environmental review and by imposing strict new deadlines for completing those studies. The administration also wants to eliminate the need for agencies to consider climate change and other “cumulative” environmental impacts associated with those projects.

Fossil Fuel Industry Pushed for NEPA Rollback

Fossil fuel interests have long targeted NEPA, and industry groups were obviously quick to praise the Trump administration’s proposal. Environmentalists, however, warned that limiting the review process would also limit public input on new pipelines and other potentially damaging infrastructure projects.

“Trump’s gift to the fossil fuel industry and special interests will silence ordinary Americans while giving polluters a free pass to trash the environment, destroy public lands and kill wildlife,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

At least one legal expert questioned whether the administration’s proposal would even hold up in court, since the new rules would basically subvert the entire purpose of  NEPA.

“A regulation can’t change the requirements of a statute as interpreted by the courts,” Richard L. Revesz, a professor of environmental law at New York University, told the New York Times.

Trump Has Proposed More than 100 Regulatory Rollbacks

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is rarely dissuaded by the threat of a court challenge.

Since taking office in January 2017, the President has proposed more than 100 regulatory rollbacks, including:

Such moves have provoked more than 70 court challenges (so far, the administration has prevailed just four times), thousands of public comments in opposition, and outcry from the scientific community. Unfortunately, no amount of opposition or court setbacks have been enough to temper President Trump’s anti-regulatory zeal.

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