Business & Lobbying

Coalition forms to back Trump rollback of major environmental law

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A new coalition aims to garner support for President Trump’s plans to overhaul the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a major environmental law.

GOP operative Phil Cox is the chairman of the coalition, named Building a Better America. The former executive director of the Republican Governors Association also led Trade Works for America, a pro-trade group that pushed the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

“The president is a builder, he understands these issues and I think he’s shown great leadership in reforming NEPA. Now we’ve just got to go ahead and make sure it gets done,” Cox said in an exclusive interview with The Hill.

NEPA requires agencies to review infrastructure projects on how they would affect the environment and nearby communities, including for climate impacts. But Trump’s plan to roll back the law would limit the projects that require environmental assessments, allow industry more input in the process, and also scale back the role climate change plays in those reviews.

Business groups have cheered the proposal, which the administration says is needed to reform the decades-old law. Trump and supporters have long criticized NEPA’s rules, saying they unnecessarily delay needed infrastructure and energy projects. And the changes come as the White House and Congress have failed to move on bipartisan legislation on infrastructure.

Green groups and Democrats have blasted the NEPA changes, floating legislation or court challenges to limit Trump’s moves.

The proposed overhaul published in the Federal Register on Friday will go through a 60-day comment period, which will close in March.

“The goal in short term is to make sure the White House is hearing a lot of supportive voices over the course of the next 60 days,” Cox said. “I would not be at all surprised if you saw the House act during that time period. You have the backdrop of the presidential campaign which lends itself to the possibility of a bigger fight.”

The coalition plans to spend a minimum of $5 million but will increase its budget if it involves a congressional fight.

“[We will] aggressively push back on extreme left-wing environmental groups working to kill the reforms,” Cox said. “I think the environmental left is going to fight this every step of the way through legal action.”

The group is not required to disclose its donors but, Cox said, they have a “very diverse set of supporters” and “support from small business and folks throughout the supply chain, from individuals who stand to benefit from a more streamlined process, from workers and from industry.”

Asked if they are coordinating with the Trump campaign, Cox said Building a Better America is “strictly” an issue advocacy organization.

“I think the administration’s always wanted to reform NEPA and these things take time to get right. I think the administration’s come out with a very thoughtful plan and regulatory reform,” Cox said.

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