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Trump seeks exempting some pipelines and highways from environmental review, alarming climate activists

President Trump speaks from the White House on Wednesday.
President Trump speaks from the White House on Wednesday.
(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Trump on Thursday unveiled a proposed revision of the federal environmental review process, a move that would fast-track the construction of some infrastructure projects, including pipelines, highways and airports.

The change, which would apply to the National Environmental Policy Act enacted under the Nixon administration, would limit the review timeline of “large” projects to two years and “small” projects to one year and eliminate the requirement that agencies weigh the “cumulative impacts” of a project, which has often been interpreted to include analysis of impacts from climate change.

Trump introduced the proposal Thursday flanked by leaders of trade associations for real estate developers, building contractors and manufacturers, as well as White House Cabinet members, including Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. He said the current rules are a “regulatory nightmare” that have frequently bogged down critical infrastructure projects.

“It takes many, many years to get buildings built,” Trump said. “It’s big government at its absolute worse.”

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Council on Environmental Quality chairwoman Mary Neumayr, a Trump appointee, said the review process has become “increasingly complex” and that some environmental reviews have taken more than four years and filled more than 600 pages. The delays, Neumayr said, increase construction costs and make the United States less economically competitive.

Vickie Patton, an attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, cast doubt on the proposal, saying that “unfortunately, the clear record shows the Trump administration operates with reckless disregard for our nation’s long-standing environmental laws.” The rule change is an attempt to “punch loopholes into long-standing protections” under long-standing environmental law and “would put communities at risk and worsen climate change,” Patton said.

The environmental review is typically required for projects receiving federal permits or funding. A draft of the proposal said the change would exclude private projects that receive minimal public funding or government involvement.

This change can make it harder for advocacy groups to pose a significant challenge to large projects that might be harmful to the environment.

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Anne Bradbury, CEO of the American Exploration & Production Council, a national trade group representing oil and natural gas companies, said the Trump administration’s “modernization of NEPA removes bureaucratic barriers that were stifling construction of key infrastructure projects needed for U.S. producers to deliver energy in a safe and environmentally protective way.”

It will likely be challenged in court as it has already drawn concern from advocacy groups, including the Western Values Project and the Sierra Club, whose executive director, Michael Brune, said in a statement that the “action 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,” Brune said, adding the group will “pursue every available avenue to fight back against” the proposal.


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