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18 states ask Trump administration to withdraw major environmental rollback

18 states ask Trump administration to withdraw major environmental rollback
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Attorneys general for 18 states are asking the Trump administration to withdraw a rule that would roll back a bedrock environmental law, arguing the proposal is “unlawful, unreasonable, and unjustified.”

The White House in January announced sweeping changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires that an environmental review accompany any major infrastructure project such as building highways or pipelines.   

Trump’s changes would limit the breadth of the law, excluding some projects from undergoing NEPA review, such as those that receive little federal funding. It also opens the door for more industry involvement in reviewing the environmental impacts of their projects and removes the “cumulative” effects language that courts have largely interpreted as requiring the government to weigh how a project would impact global warming. 

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Critics view those changes as dismantling one of the major environmental laws of the last half century. 

“These changes grant extraordinary discretion to federal agencies and project proponents while limiting consideration of environmental and public health impacts from federal actions,” the attorneys general wrote in a comment on the rule, arguing the changes “undermine NEPA’s plain language.”

The Trump administration argues the changes are necessary to speed environmental reviews, which can last years and produce a report numbering in the hundreds of pages. 

“Since the NEPA statute was enacted over 50 years ago, the environmental review and permitting process has become much more complex and time consuming, and can result in delays of critical infrastructure projects for communities,” Mary Neumayr, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which crafted the policy, said at one of the two public hearings on the changes. 

But the attorneys general argue the rule, if finalized after the end of the comment period this month, “would trade reasoned and informed decision making for unjustified expedience.”

While critics of the Trump proposal say NEPA could be tweaked to work better, the attorneys general argue the administration may face trouble in court for looking for other ways to change the law.

“The proposed rule fails to evaluate whether tools to remedy its concerns already exist,” they wrote.

The comments were submitted by Washington, California, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont.