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Landmark Environmental Law Changes to Streamline Gas Pipeline Reviews

A landmark 1970 environmental law is being overhauled by the Trump administration to streamline reviews of infrastructure projects, including natural gas pipelines.

The National Energy Policy Act requires federal agencies to conduct environmental and public reviews of infrastructure projects, including highways, power plants, and pipelines. Trump has been critical of the “burdensome” law, which on average takes 4 ½ years for a review to be conducted, according to the White House Council on Environmental Quality, The new rules, which are likely to face legal challenges, would require that environmental impact statements be completed within two years.

“By streamlining infrastructure approvals, we’ll further expand America’s unprecedented economic boom,” the president said in a statement.

The law has allowed communities to challenge projects and suggest alternatives, however, the new rules limit the range of alternatives that can be considered and increases the requirements for making such challenges.

In addition, it would limit the number of major projects that must undergo NEPA reviews to those involving “major federal actions” and states that federal agencies do not have to consider the “cumulative” or “indirect” impacts of a project, which critics said is a way to limit a study of climate change potential.

The Council on Environmental Quality issued a draft of the proposed changes in January, which led to more than 1 million public comments being received.

While industry groups welcomed the changes, environmental groups promised a legal challenge.

Mike Sommers, president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement that the action “is essential to U.S. energy leadership and environmental progress, providing more certainty to jumpstart not only the modernized pipeline infrastructure we need to deliver cleaner fuels but highway, bridges, and renewable energy.”

“This is a blatant and transparent effort from the Trump administration to further silence communities that are not as well connected, not as wealthy, not as valuable to the White House as others,” said Kym Hunter, a Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney who is heading the organization’s defense of NEPA. SELC is representing 16 conservation organizations. SELC said it is preparing to sue the Trump administration on behalf of the 16 groups.

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