Energy & Environment

Trump to move forward with rollback of bedrock environmental law

President Trump is expected to finalize a rollback to one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws Wednesday in a move critics say will be particularly harmful to minority communities.

The changes to the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates environmental reviews of major construction projects and pipelines, are being pitched by the Trump administration as a way to cut regulations, expedite energy and infrastructure projects, and give a boost to the economy.

The rollback, first proposed in January, is moving forward amid heightened tensions over racial injustice stemming from police brutality and health disparities laid bare by the coronavirus. Critics argue that Trump’s erosion of 50-year-old protections will hit minority communities the hardest since polluting industries are disproportionately likely to be located in neighborhoods with large nonwhite populations.

“The Trump administration’s NEPA rollback will further endanger those bearing the greatest burden of legacy environmental injustice and structural racism,” said Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) on a press call.

Trump is expected to announce implementation of the NEPA changes during a visit to the UPS Hapeville Airport Hub in Atlanta. According to a White House official, the president will discuss his actions to get rid of what the administration describes as burdensome regulations.

NEPA requires that the government review how pipelines, highways, and certain oil and gas projects impact the environment and nearby residential communities.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality in January proposed limiting the law’s scope to exclude some projects from undergoing review, such as those receiving little federal funding. The proposal, which is slated to be finalized Wednesday, is expected to also allow for more industry involvement in those environmental impact reviews.

The changes also would no longer require consideration of “cumulative” effects of new projects, something the courts have largely interpreted as weighing the climate effects of a project and how a new project interacts with existing sources of nearby pollution.

Instead, officials would need to consider only the “reasonably foreseeable” effects of a project.

Environmentalists argue that would allow the government to look the other way when projects contribute considerable amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Proponents of the changes have billed them as a modernization to a law that has created significant delays for infrastructure projects.

Announcing the proposal in January, Trump said, “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.”

The new rule is also expected to shorten the time it takes for the government to complete environmental impact statements from about 4 ½ years to about two years.

The overall changes could also strip environmentalists of a valuable legal tool. NEPA has been used in court to challenge infrastructure projects suspected of skirting federal permitting rules. The law was cited in recent court decisions that dealt setbacks to the Dakota Access pipeline.

Wednesday’s action won’t be the first time Trump has taken aim at NEPA.

In June, he signed an executive order that waives requirements under several environmental laws, including NEPA, to help jump-start the economy during the coronavirus recession. The order also would speed up permitting for construction projects that are overseen by various federal agencies.

More than 100 Democratic lawmakers wrote to the administration last week opposing the upcoming NEPA changes.

“Historically, EJ communities have been targeted for projects, and, in turn, continue to experience negative environmental and health impacts,” the lawmakers wrote, referring to environmental justice communities, or those that have faced environmental inequality.

“NEPA was created to give a voice to those who are often rendered voiceless and has successfully allowed impacted populations to challenge projects that negatively affect their water quality, air quality, economic prosperity, and overall health and safety,” they added, arguing Trump’s changes would “halt this progress and careen in the opposite direction, threatening to undermine years of hard-fought progress.”

Several studies have shown that low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to be affected by pollution due to the proximity of projects and construction.

“We have a right to know if our social cohesion and community sustainability will be enhanced or diminished with a project or if the cumulative effects of multiple polluting sources will diminish the air, soil and water quality where we live,” Peggy Shepard, executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice, told reporters.

“The planned changes to NEPA are another action in a campaign designed to silence communities,” she said.

Tags Donald McEachin Donald Trump Environment National Environmental Policy Act NEPA regulations

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video