The Trump Administration wants to turn environmental impact reviews into rubber stamps.
For decades, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has served to force consideration of environmental impacts before major federal projects and permits can be approved. NEPA is best known for the Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) it requires. An EIS prepared to NEPA standards allows the public to see the data and reasoning behind a federal agency’s determination that environmental impacts will be reasonable from a new highway, drilling permit, or interstate pipeline, for example.
It will come as no surprise to those following the policies of the Trump Administration that it wants to speed up all of those types of projects, especially drilling and pipelines. To achieve that end, it’s proposing radical changes to how NEPA is interpreted and applied. Among other changes:
- Agencies would no longer need to consider a project’s impact on the factors driving climate change.
- Companies with a financial stake in the outcome of a project could prepare its study without revealing their conflict of interest to the public, secretly undercutting the objectivity of the analysis.
- Private companies could be allowed to take private land for projects like pipelines without court review.
- Projects could be approved without consideration of environmental justice effects (disproportionate impacts on poor or minority communities).
National environmental advocacy groups are among those gearing up to fight the proposed changes, which were announced this month.
Gina McCarthy, President/CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said, “Americans deserve to have their voices heard before their families’ health and well-being are put at risk by projects that bring unwanted and unnecessary pollution and disruption into their communities. While our world is burning, President Trump is adding fuel to the fire by taking away our right to be informed and to protect ourselves from irreparable harm. For the past 50 years, NEPA has been an essential part of the public process, providing critical oversight that the federal government relies on to fully understand the potential implications of projects that can harm people’s health and the environment.”
League of Conservation Voters (LCV) president Gene Karpinski was even blunter: “President Trump is trying yet again to sell out the health and well-being of our children and families to corporate polluters. This misdirected proposal to change the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act is one of the most egregious actions the Trump administration has taken to limit the federal government’s response to climate change yet. The implications for access to clean air and clean water and for public input, especially among the low-income communities and communities of color most impacted by climate change and toxic pollution, could be dire.”
A public comment period on the proposed changes has opened, and runs through March 10. More specific calls for public comment are expected over the next month.