Trump accused of 'disgraceful abdication' of duty for proposal to neuter landmark environmental law

Trump accused of 'disgraceful abdication' of duty for proposal to neuter landmark environmental law
(Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

The Trump administration was again accused of moving to attack the environment and wildlife in response to reports that the White House is moving to gut a five decade-old law referred to as the Magna Carta of environmental legislation.


The proposal targets the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which was signed in to law by President Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970. It requires federal agencies to identify and consider the environmental and climate impacts of proposed actions including federal permits for infrastructure projects such as pipelines, and gives the public a chance to weigh in on the proposals.

"It's shameful that the Trump administration is ripping apart America's cornerstone environmental law on its 50th anniversary," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in statement Monday.

In addition to nixing the requirement that cumulative impacts are considered, "the administration will more narrowly define the type of project that requires an environmental review," the New York Times first reported Friday, citing an anonymous government official.

Reuters reported:

The CEQ is also expected to limit the scope of projects that would trigger stringent environmental reviews called environmental impact studies, expand the number of project categories that can be excluded from NEPA reviews, and allow companies or project developers to conduct their own environmental assessments, the sources said.

The revamp, the Times added, would be a revision of "the rules that guide the implementation of the law" and has the potential to "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 plan drew outrage from Hartl, who said, "Trump's gift to the fossil fuel industry and special interests will silence ordinary Americans while giving polluters a free pass to trash the environment, destroy public lands, and kill wildlife."

The White House hinted at the changes in a statement released January 1 marking the 50th anniversary of NEPA. It said it would unveil a proposal to "address the many concerns my administration has heard from hardworking Americans, small businesses, and state and local officials" regarding the law and would mark a continuation of Trump's slashing of "burdensome regulations."

The proposal appears to fulfill an industry wish.

As Reuters reported in November,

33 groups, including the Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute, sent a letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Mary Neumayr asking the agency to "expeditiously proceed" with efforts to "modernize" National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. [...]

Streamlining the process could hasten approvals for future proposals like the Keystone pipeline, which has been held up by federal courts for not undergoing a rigorous NEPA study.

To ponder the possible consequences of the change, Hartl pointed to the catastrophic impacts of the 2010 oil spill—BP's notorious Deepwater Horizon rig took advantage (pdf) of a "categorical exclusion" to avoid a full environmental analysis.

"Trump's attack on NEPA means we'll likely see more massive oil spills and other environmental catastrophes," said Hartl. "Forcing federal agencies to ignore environmental threats is a disgraceful abdication of our responsibility to protect the planet for future generations."

Stephen Schima, senior legislative counsel for the non-profit law organization Earthjustice, also rebuked the proposal. The Trump administration, Schima told the Washington Post, is "trying to institutionalize climate denial into federal decision-making."

Other noted figures expressing criticism of the proposal Monday included Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who called it "disastrous," and actress and singer Barbara Streisand, who said, "Trump is in the pocket of the fossil fuel industry and surrendering the lead in renewable technologies to other nations."

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