Trump Administration Overhauls Environmental Rule To Speed Up Infrastructure Projects
President Donald Trump announced the final rule to reform and modernize the regulations governing environmental analysis in order to speed up infrastructure projects and energy development across the country.
The announcement comes after Trump announced the initial proposal to revise the National Environmental Protection Act in January, which drew praise from western leaders as Western Wire reported previously. The White House said a primary goal of the reform was to set a two-year deadline for environmental impact statements and impose page limits on environmental reviews.
In February, the Council on Environmental Quality, the office overseeing the proposal, held a day-long field hearing to take public comment that attracted business leaders, ranchers, and community activists across the West. The hearing drew opponents of the proposal who argued that the overhaul would cause environmental damage, although supporters say a streamlined NEPA will benefit the environment as improved transportation infrastructure reduces emissions from commuter congestion and helps to advance the development of renewable energy systems like wind and solar.
Rep. Rob Bishop from Utah, the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee and a longtime proponent of NEPA reform, said this week he has seen plenty of efforts fall short during his time in Congress.
“Every administration for the past half a century has tried to untangle the mess Congress created by writing NEPA in the way it did,” Rep. Bishop said. “Enacted with noble intent to expand public input and enhance environmentally conscious decisions, NEPA has morphed into a tool for excessive litigation to slow or block economic activity, including crucial projects to support clean water, affordable energy, and essential infrastructure.”
A NEPA overhaul won’t just affect infrastructure and energy, but also agriculture and ranching operations that often deal with environmental regulatory hurdles, and Zach Riley with the Colorado Farm Bureau praised the new rule.
“Growing the nation’s food source, safety of animals and resource management, are the top priorities of Colorado’s farm families,” Riley said. “These new regulations are a welcomed change to the nearly 40 year old legislation. By modernizing and comprehensively updating NEPA for the first time to potentially more streamlined, effective, and timely Federal environmental-reviews process, farming and ranching businesses will be much more viable and efficient.”
Two weeks ago, the Keystone XL pipeline was the latest victim of an infrastructure project stymied by NEPA litigation. A federal judge in Montana ordered pipeline construction to be halted after a lawsuit was brought by a group of environmental and tribal groups. The judge pointed to NEPA and ordered additional environmental analysis be conducted before the construction can continue.
When it was signed into law in 1970, NEPA was landmark legislation gave the government authority to assess the environmental impacts of construction of transportation and water infrastructure, as well as traditional and renewable energy projects, and land and forest use. However, it hasn’t undergone a major overhaul in the 50 years since, prompting the business community to call for changes to help ensure the law meets the requirements of a modern economy.
Today, the average environmental review often exceeds 600 pages and takes more than four years to complete, according to the White House.
“NEPA reviews have become very costly and time-consuming, threatening the construction of important infrastructure projects and job creation across this country,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who stressed that NEPA reform will create not only a wealthier economy, but also a cleaner environment.
“EPA is confident this regulation can help both the U.S. economy grow faster and safeguard its environment for future generations,” he said.
Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette touted the energy advantages a NEPA overhaul will bring. “Now that the United States is the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas, it is more important than ever that we responsibly develop the necessary infrastructure to get these abundant and affordable resources to market,” he said.
It does not appear, however, that the announcement will stem lawsuits anytime soon. Immediately following the president’s remarks several environmental groups promised to sue the Administration.
Jane Davenport, a senior attorney with Defenders of Wildlife, said in a press release, “Gutting the regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act is beyond reckless. We will take this fight to the courthouse.”
WildEarth Guardians similarly pledged to sue the administration, according to Colorado Public Radio. Jeremy Nichols, the climate and energy program director for conservation, told CPR, “This administration’s track record in defending its action in court is pretty horrendous.”
A recent review by Western Wire found Defenders of Wildlife received $2 million to $5 million in stimulus relief from the federal government through the Paycheck Protection Program. WildEarth Guardians received $350,000 to $1 million in economic relief, according to government data.