Energy & Environment

Trump expected to sign order lifting environmental review for big projects

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President Trump is expected to sign an executive order Thursday afternoon that would waive requirements under a bedrock environmental law.

The new order would expedite the permitting of construction projects despite environmental rules, and will argue this is needed to boost the economy in the face of the coronavirus.

A White House spokesman told reporters the order would deal with “some of the permitting and energy as it relates to rebuilding this country.”

Trump has repeatedly targeted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires rigorous environmental review before building new infrastructure or approving energy projects like oil and gas drilling or building pipelines.

The president will be relying on emergency authority to declare an economic emergency, according to The Washington Post, which allows skirting of environmental rules and public commenting periods.

Thursday’s executive order will follow another order the president signed in May directing agency heads to “identify regulatory standards that may inhibit economic recovery.”

Shortly thereafter, the conservative Club For Growth group said the White House should consider further rolling back NEPA

The Trump administration has already rolled back a number of environmental regulations while in office, including putting new limits on NEPA.

A January proposal from the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) would limit the law’s scope, excluding some projects from undergoing NEPA review, like those that receive little federal funding. It also opens the door for more industry involvement in reviewing the environmental impacts of their projects. That rule is currently undergoing Office of Management and Budget review.

“From Day One, my administration has made fixing this regulatory nightmare a top priority. And we want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways bigger, better, faster, and we want to build them at less cost,” Trump said when the proposal was first rolled out. 

Critics are already expressing alarm over Trump’s latest expected order, arguing it will remove protections for what are so often the black and brown communities impacted by polluting projects.

“This administration is removing phantom barriers that are at their essence protections for the very communities that are struggling most from the health impacts of air and water pollution,” Christy Goldfuss, who headed CEQ under the Obama administration and now works at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement.  

“They’re trying to divert attention away from the crisis of racial injustice happening around the country, by giving agency leads the excuse to ram through polluting projects that will prop up the dying fossil fuel industry while destroying the very same communities that are dying at higher rates from COVID-19 and police violence, as well.”

Tags Donald Trump NEPA

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