President Trump in January proposed an overhaul to a 50-year-old environmental rule that would speed up approval of large construction projects, including pipelines and highways.
The National Environmental Policy Act, signed into law by Richard Nixon, requires federal agencies to review the environmental impacts of major infrastructure projects. Those reviews can delay projects for years.
In his remarks announcing the proposal, Trump said that the “outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process” can tie up a project for more than 10 years. “These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground, and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers.”
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt called it a “really, really big proposal.”
“The proposal affects virtually every significant decision made by the federal government that affects the environment,” he said. “And I believe it will be the most significant deregulatory proposal you ultimately implement.”
EPA Secretary Andrew Wheeler said that NEPA has lost sight of its goal of protecting the environment, and that the proposed changes will “streamline the permitting process without compromising environmental protections.”
The proposed changes would set narrow the scope of the act, which also requires agencies to include the public in their environmental assessment, meaning that communities could have less control over projects built in their neighborhoods.
The proposal would exclude privately financed projects that receive minimal federal funding, which could make it easier for pipelines to be built. The NEPA has been used by environmentalists and activists to delay pipeline projects.
It would set a two-year time limit on completing a full environmental review and assign one lead agency to conduct the review, rather than having multiple agencies each conduct its own.
But one of the most significant changes is language that would eliminate agencies from considering the “cumulative” effects of a project, including its impact on future climate change. “Effects should not be considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain,” the proposal states.
Industry representatives and trade union leaders are behind the proposal, saying it will speed project completion and create jobs.
Environmental groups have come out strongly against the proposal, which they say will make it harder to work against climate change. While the proposal faces a 60-day comment period and public hearings before it can be implemented, is likely to face court challenges.