Conservation and climate action groups condemned President Donald Trump's "unprecedented" rollback Thursday of a 50-year-old law which made history when it was passed in 1970 by allowing communities to have a say in federal infrastructure projects that would affect local resources and ecosystems.
Trump on Thursday proposed major changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires that major construction plans for pipelines, power plants, bridges, and other infrastructure projects undergo a detailed assessment to consider their impact on the environment before approval.
"Today, Trump is taking a chainsaw to a bedrock environmental law that has protected Americans for decades," said Rebecca Concepcion Apostol, U.S. program director at Oil Change International. "This is a reckless, dangerous, blatant gift to the fossil fuel industry that will have dire consequences for all of us."
The rollback of NEPA, called an "international treasure" by one former EPA official, will allow the fossil fuel industry to quickly get approval for new projects that could send climate-warming, pollution-causing emissions into surrounding communities, as well as harm wildlife habitats and federally protected lands, with scant oversight.
The move is "nothing more than another attempt by the administration to tip the scale in favor of industry," said Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA).
"This law has given people a voice in how their public lands are used, and ensures the environment, from the air we breathe to the water we drink, is taken into account before development projects move forward," Pierno added. "These unprecedented revisions deliberately ignore years of science-driven data, letting the government and industry off the hook for addressing the impacts of climate change on our national parks."
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) explained the groundbreaking effect NEPA has had on American communities for decades.
"In short, NEPA protected people by making sure those who were affected by these projects had a voice," tweeted the group.
If a pipeline would pollute a waterway or a highway would cut through a neighborhood, #NEPA provided a way for communities to raise these issues during the planning process. In short, NEPA protected people by making sure those who were affected by these projects had a voice.
— NRDC (@NRDC) January 9, 2020
Trump's proposed changes, which will be subject to a 60-day comment period, would narrow the scope of NEPA reviews by redefining the term "major federal action" to reduce the number of projects that are required to undergo review. The rollback would also restrict public input by imposing a strict time limit for reviews, allowing just one year for many projects and two years for the largest projects.
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While the Obama administration expanded NEPA by ordering the government to consider projects' possible impacts on the climate crisis, Trump is proposing that courts will no longer have to consider the cumulative climate effects of infrastructure projects.
"These changes mean polluting corporations will have an easier time doing whatever they want, wherever they want, with even less consideration for climate change or local concerns than they've shown so far," Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told the New York Times.
Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator under the Obama administration who is now the head of the NRDC, called the rollback a "dangerous move" that the group was committed to fighting against.
This is an attack on the health of local communities, especially disadvantaged and communities of color. This is an attack on the environment, and the climate we all depend on. Once again, the Trump admin. is favoring polluter-profits over the health of our country and planet.
— NRDC (@NRDC) January 9, 2020
The revisions "deliberately ignore years of science-driven data about the climate crisis and the effects of pipeline and other fossil fuel projects," Pierno said.
"Across the country, rising sea levels, melting glaciers, and intensifying storms and wildfires are already destroying our national parks, which are home to countless historic and cultural resources," she added. "But the administration's deliberate steps to undermine science and expertise will only make matters worse. We need solutions to tackle the climate crisis now, not reforms that make it easier to stick our heads in the sand."
The environmental law group Earthjustice urged Americans to honor the legacy of those who pushed to pass NEPA into law by speaking out during the federal comment period—which officially begins on Friday.
"This law was built on decades of activism from people who wanted a say in decisions affecting their health, their lives, their communities, and their environment," said Stephen Schima, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. "By stacking the deck for corporate polluters and eviscerating public participation, this administration is trashing that legacy."
President Trump's administration is launching an attack on the National Environmental Policy Act, the first environmental law in this country. #ProtectYourVoice and speak out against this proposal today. https://t.co/eEDUfTKBvh
— Earthjustice (@Earthjustice) January 9, 2020
"Protect your voice and speak out against this proposal today," the group tweeted.