WASHINGTON, D.C. – From oil pipelines to the nation’s bridges, the Trump administration wants to hasten the environmental approval process required to advance energy and infrastructure projects. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt says the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) serves a noble purpose but is restricting innovation.
“If you are a student that is in an Indian school and it’s in bad shape, you have a chance to have a newer school more quickly. If you are a National Park that’s hoping to get a better visitor center, now you have a process that could lead to a better visitor center,” said Bernhardt in advance of the administration’s announcement Thursday.
“The time that is required to rebuild a new project is unsustainable,” said Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao during the proposed rules unveiling.
The administration wants to limit and in some cases avoid federal environmental review for privately funded or managed projects.
“With this proposal, we will still have to think about the consequences of each federal decision in the context of all of the natural and human environment, which includes everything and so the process is just to do it in a way that’s a little more responsible,” said Bernhardt
While these changes are being championed by the oil and gas industry, environmental groups are already gearing up for a fight.
“This is really a hand out to the worst actors in the fossil fuel industry. It’s a hand out to corporate polluters,” said Matthew Gravatt, Deputy Legislative Director at the Sierra Club.
The organization is concerned about a proposal to shorten the environmental review process to two years, one year for smaller projects.
“What it does is constrain the projects that can be evaluated, denies the public an opportunity to make their voices heard and it also undermines the types of impacts that would be reviewed under NEPA like climate change, pollution and impacts to air and water quality,” said Gravatt.
The public has 60-days to comment on the administration’s proposals.
There will be two open hearings before the final regulation is issued.
The Sierra Club is challenging a number of the administration’s policies on environmental protections including attempts to build the border wall, the Keystone XL pipeline, clean car standards and FOIA requests.