White House Proposes Slashing Timelines For Highway Projects

Pablo Tucker
January 12, 2020

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) praised President Donald Trump's administration for its proposed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) revisions aimed at speeding up the environmental review process for major infrastructure projects.

In a dramatic rollback of environmental oversight, President Donald Trump took action Thursday to clear the way and speed up development of a wide range of commercial projects by cutting back federal review of their impact on the environment.

"The United States can not compete and thrive if a bureaucratic system prevents us from building what we need", Trump said in the White House when he announced the proposed regulatory rollback, surrounded by cabinet secretaries, industry leaders, and workers protective helmets.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued the notice of proposed rulemaking, which calls for modernizing NEPA. Congress said at the time that the nation was "fulfilling each generation's responsibility as an environmental trustee for future generations".

The manufacturing industry, oil and gas producers and unions whose members work on such projects applauded the new rules, but others argued that they sacrifice the environment and undercut efforts to reduce the carbon emissions driving global warming.

Mary Neumayr, the chairwoman of Trump's Council on Environmental Quality, said the changes would establish a strict two-year time limit for environmental impact statements, tighten timelines, require increased co-ordination between federal agencies and make it easier for them to share documentation.

Under the new proposal, federal permitting agencies and regulators would not be obliged to assess and factor in the impact on climate of major infrastructure projects, including oil pipelines.

Trump administration officials justified the decision by characterizing past regulatory hurdles - created to ensure that the effects of climate change are mitigated in future infrastructure projects - as overly cumbersome. The creation of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement and subsequent public comment period and public hearings are all part of the NEPA process.

Professional associations and town planners spoke out against the administration's proposal.

At the same time, the administration has suffered losses in court as some federal judges have sided with environmentalists that certain NEPA reviews failed to consider the impacts of climate change, including for permitting the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

"By requiring agencies to disclose the impacts of these projects to the people, it leads to better decisions", he said.

The changes Trump proposes would exclude projects primarily funded by private companies, including oil and gas pipelines.

"Regulatory hurdles under NEPA have triggered reliability problems and forced electric co-ops and their communities to endure costly project delays", said NRECA CEO Jim Matheson. Trump and the coterie of former industry lobbyists he has placed in charge of federal environmental policy display little interest in the planet they are charged with protecting.

The Wyoming governor, Mark Gordon, has pledged his and the state's support to "modernize" the NEPA.

NEPA is an important political tool to ensure that the environmental impact of the large federal measures planned is adequately taken into account.

NEPA, which was signed into law in 1970, has become outdated and therefore has "slowed and impeded" needed infrastructure, according to CEQ.

"Without these protections, our environment is put at greater risk because our government will no longer have to look before it leaps".

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