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OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump finalizes rollback of bedrock environmental law NEPA | President attacks Biden clean energy plan while announcing environmental rollback | Dakota Access pipeline shutdown temporarily halted

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump finalizes rollback of bedrock environmental law NEPA | President attacks Biden clean energy plan while announcing environmental rollback | Dakota Access pipeline shutdown temporarily halted
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NEPA CHANGES MADE OFFICIAL: The White House finalized its rollback of one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws Wednesday, with President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE calling the law the “single biggest obstacle” to major construction projects.

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Critics say the rollback will gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which for 50 years has required the government to weigh environmental and community concerns before approving pipelines, highways, drilling permits, new factories or any major action on federal lands.

The changes from the Trump administration aim to streamline environmental reviews that industry complains can take years to complete. The reviews can take roughly four and a half years, while the White House would like to reduce that to two years.

The rollback removes requirements to consider climate change before proceeding on a project.

Protocols for weighing concerns from nearby communities — often communities of color — would become far more complex.

It also opens the door for more industry involvement in reviewing the environmental impacts of their projects or nixing reviews entirely for some projects that receive little federal funding.

“Today's action is part of my administration's fierce commitment to slashing the web of needless bureaucracy that is holding back our citizens. I've been wanting to do this from day one,” Trump said to a crowd at the UPS Hapeville Airport Hub in Atlanta. “It's one of the biggest things we can be doing for our country.”

Trump promised the new rule would reduce traffic in congestion-plagued Atlanta, arguing the changes would help with the expansion of the three lane I-75 highway near the facility where an express lane was recently added. His overtures in the state come as Democrats are increasingly eyeing Georgia as a potential battleground in November.

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So what does everybody think???

Conservatives have repeatedly hailed changes in the law as a way to deal with traffic congestion, but NEPA covers a wide range of projects that emit a variety of pollutants. 

Throughout his administration, Trump has hammered the law as being a roadblock to big construction projects he says will help create jobs as well as ensure construction of pipelines he promised to build during the campaign. The rule follows several executive orders that also aimed to weaken NEPA in the name of boosting the economy.

“Trump’s absolute gutting of these regulations runs completely counter to the intent of the statute,” said Christy Goldfuss, the former head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality under former President Obama. She now works at the Center for American Progress.

“The intent of the law is that humans and nature coexist for the benefit of all. These new regulations couldn't be farther from the original purpose, and they are unlikely to stand up in court,” she said.

Trump’s rewrite of the law eliminates the government’s responsibility to consider the cumulative effects of projects, something courts have largely interpreted as studying how a project might contribute to climate change. 

In the case of a highway, that could mean not just the environmental damage from the road itself, but the impact of the greenhouse gas emitting vehicles that drive on it. The government would also need to weigh how the project would add to pollution already being emitted by other nearby roadways.

“This idea of cumulative impacts is really core to the way NEPA works, and arguably there is no greater environmental crisis that is tied to cumulative impacts than climate change,” Goldfuss said. “Because it's really about greenhouse gases on top of greenhouse gases and other pollution adding up to this global disaster that we're all experiencing.”

Failure to weigh the big picture could be particularly damaging to poor communities and communities of color that are disproportionately selected as the site for polluting industries and projects, critics say. 

Historically, NEPA has allowed communities to challenge projects and push for alternatives, such as expanding solar and wind rather than building a pipeline in order to deliver power.

But the rewrite allows permit applicants to limit the range of alternatives that can be considered, while communities seeking to challenge a project will now need to offer far more onerous critiques.

Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-Calif.), whose constituents have fought a number of projects, called NEPA a critical tool for civil rights.

“With today's Trump administration rule, fossil fuel corporations will be able to ram harmful projects through without considering the pollution dangers to people in nearby neighborhoods. NEPA gives our very vulnerable communities across the country an opportunity to make our voices heard and stop pollution in our own backyards,” she said. “President Trump is trying to rob us of our voice. We will not be silenced.” 

Read more about the finalized rollback here. 

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THE BEST DEFENSE IS A GOOD OFFENSE: President Trump mocked presumptive Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit Protect our world: How the Biden administration can save lives and economies worldwide MORE’s climate plan Wednesday during a speech unveiling an environmental regulation rollback the White House hopes will speed construction projects.

Trump’s comments came in an Atlanta speech announcing a rollback to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), weakening a bedrock environmental law in order to speed permitting for pipelines, oil and gas drilling, highways and other infrastructure.

“Our past vice president opposes, think of this, all of our permitting reforms,” Trump said to the crowd. 

“Biden is happy to tie up projects in red tape, and we want to get things built.”

Biden does oppose Trump’s rollback to NEPA. 

“No one should be fooled that Donald Trump is attempting to destroy a bipartisan, cornerstone law to distract from the fact that ‘Infrastructure Week’ never happened and never will happen as long as he is president,” Biden campaign spokesman Matt Hill said in a statement.

“He has failed to deliver any real plan to create jobs and instead is cutting corners to once again ignore science, experts, and communities and reservations entitled to clean air, water, and environments.”

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The Biden campaign recently unveiled a $700 billion economic plan and has included multiple environmental measures as part of his vision for restoring economic growth. 

A Tuesday update to his environmental plan, which comes as the left wing of the party has sought to push him farther on green issues, would set a 2035 target for carbon-free power.

“Unbelievable. Biden wants to massively re-regulate the energy economy, rejoin the Paris Climate accord, which would kill our energy totally,” Trump said Wednesday.

Read more about Trump’s comments here

PIPING UP: An impending shutdown of the Dakota Access pipeline has been halted in a small win for the project, which has recently faced court setbacks. 

A Tuesday appeals court order stalled a district court decision ordering the pipeline to cease operations by Aug. 5, saying it needs more time to consider a motion to prevent the shutdown. 

“The purpose of this administrative stay is to give the court sufficient opportunity to consider the emergency motion for stay and should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits of that motion,” the new order said. 

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Last week, a lower court said the pipeline had to be temporarily shut down while the Army Corps of Engineers works to prepare an environmental impact statement for a rule relaxation that allowed the project to cross the Missouri river.

That same court had previously determined that the Army Corps of Engineers violated environmental laws when it allowed the Dakota Access pipeline to proceed. 

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has sued over the controversial pipeline, which crosses native lands and has drawn protesters from across the country. The 1,200-mile project carries oil from North Dakota to Illinois.

Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman, who is representing the tribe, said in a statement that "an administrative stay is not in any way indicative of how the court is going to rule — it just buys the court a little additional time to make a decision."

"We look forward to the opportunity to explain why the district court got this right," Hasselman said.

Read more about the decision here

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY:

States are confronting the future of gas in buildings — and facing a set of high-stakes questions, Grist reports

Global Methane Emissions Reach a Record High, The New York Times reports

OPEC faces 'worst of both worlds' with oil prices in limbo ahead of committee meeting, CNBC reports

Increase in invasive species poses dramatic threat to biodiversity, The Guardian reports

More than 5,000 gallons of oil spills in North Dakota, the Jamestown Sun reports

ICYMI: Stories from Wednesday…

Democrat expresses concern about 'delay' of cancer-linked chemical regulation

Weedkiller chemical found in popular brands of hummus

Trump attacks Biden clean energy plan while announcing environmental rollback

Trump finalizes rollback of bedrock environmental law NEPA

Dakota Access pipeline shutdown temporarily halted

FROM THE HILL’S OPINION PAGES: 

More blue is needed in the Democrats' Green Plan, write David Helvarg, executive director of ocean conservation  group Blue Frontier, and Jason Scorse, director of the Center for the Blue Economy at Middlebury College