The Trump administration is planning revisions to the U.S. National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) to remove the requirement for federal agencies to take the climate crisis into account in their assessments of new pipelines, highways, and other infrastructure projects.
The new regulation will also eliminate a requirement for agencies to consider the cumulative impacts of new infrastructure.
“In recent years courts have interpreted that requirement as a mandate to study the effects of allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere,” the New York Times reports. “It also has meant understanding the impacts of rising sea levels and other results of climate change on a given project.”
The deregulatory action “could sharply reduce obstacles to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects that have been stymied when courts ruled that the Trump administration did not properly consider climate change when analyzing the environmental effects of the projects,” the Times adds. And by limiting the range of projects subject to environmental review, a government official said the proposed rule “could make it likely that more projects will sail through the approval process without having to disclose plans to do things like discharge waste, cut trees, or increase air pollution.”
NEPA has only undergone one major change since it was enacted in 1970, the Times writes. “But the Trump administration has been aggressive in its efforts to roll back environmental regulations,” and the 50 or so pages of revisions expected last week from the Council on Environmental Quality focused not on the act itself, but on the regulations guiding its implementation. After a 60-day comment period, the administration would expect to finalize the regulation before the U.S. presidential election November 3.
The Times says this latest White House push to gut environmental regulations may be aimed at securing support from construction trade unions that see NEPA as an obstruction to job-creation fossil and transit projects. “The environmental review process designed to improve decision-making has become increasingly complex and difficult to navigate,” Trump said in a New Year’s Day message marking the 50th anniversary of the act.
He took aim at the “significant uncertainty and delays that can increase costs, derail important projects, and threaten jobs for American workers and labour union members,” while claiming the regulatory amendments would “benefit our economy and environment”.
But Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said the move to pull climate change out of regulatory consideration “would lead to more pipelines and other projects that worsen global emissions,” the Times says. “It could also put roads, bridges and other infrastructure at greater risk, he said, because developers would not be required, for instance, to analyse whether sea level rise threatened to eventually submerge a project.”
That means the administration’s attack on NEPA “has the potential to distort infrastructure planning by making it easier to ignore predictable futures that could severely degrade the projects,” Gerrard said.
“You’re assuming away massive amounts of harm and you’re not even going to discuss it,” added Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity.