Story at a glance
- The order will allow federal agencies to use emergency powers to skirt environmental laws to accelerate energy and infrastructure projects.
- The move is billed as a way to boost economic growth amid the coronavirus outbreak.
- Critics expressed concern about removing environmental protections.
President Trump is expected to sign an executive order Thursday allowing federal agencies to use emergency powers to waive environmental laws. The move is reportedly an effort to speed up energy and infrastructure projects to boost the economy, which has been battered by the outbreak of the coronavirus, according to The Washington Post.
The president will be relying on emergency authority to declare an economic emergency, allowing federal agencies to skirt environmental rules and public commenting periods mandated by laws like the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), according to the Post. Agencies would then be allowed to fast-track major energy and other infrastructure projects.
NEPA requires rigorous environmental review before building new infrastructure or approving energy projects like oil and gas drilling or building pipelines. The order would expedite the permitting of mines, highways, pipelines and other projects to help support and accelerate economic recovery in the United States, according to the order as summarized by Reuters.
Waiving the requirements will “expedite construction of highways and other projects designed for environmental, energy, transportation, natural resource, and other uses,” one senior administration official told the Post.
Trump’s order comes a month after he signed an order giving federal agencies more power to cut regulations they consider to be hampering economic recovery. The order will also instruct the Interior, Agriculture and Defense departments to use their authorities to accelerate projects on federal lands.
A proposal from the Trump administration in January already aims to put new limits on NEPA. The proposal would exclude some projects from undergoing NEPA review, and communities would have less control over some projects built in their neighborhoods, the Post reports.
“NEPA is a public health law as well as an environmental law, and as we’ve seen time and time again, this administration considers public health and environmental laws nothing more than roadblocks to their anti-environmental agenda,” House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva said in a statement Thursday.
The Arizona Democrat said gutting NEPA can affect communities of color the most, as the law is one of “few tools” these communities have to protect themselves and make their voices heard on federal decisions that affect them.
Meanwhile, industry groups praised the order’s potential to boost the economy.
“Removing bureaucratic barriers that stifle economic growth is paramount to getting American energy workers back in their jobs and spurring business investment that gets our economy moving again,” chief executive of American Exploration and Production Council Anne Bradbury, whose organization represents the country’s shale industry and large producers of oil and gas, told the Washington Post. “We value the importance of these reforms now, and underscore the need for finalizing rules across regulatory agencies that will implement permanent reforms.”