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Documents: Trump Administration Waiving Rules for Oil Drilling, Mining

50 Major Projects Could Be Exempted From Key Environmental Laws

WASHINGTON - Documents obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity show that a presidential executive order has prompted the Department of the Interior to consider exemptions to key provisions of the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act for more than 50 major projects.

Twenty-one of the projects involve fossil fuel extraction and mining activities. These include the Jordan Cove liquid natural gas export terminal in Oregon and the Converse County Oil and Gas Project, which will allow 5,000 new wells in Wyoming. Other projects being considered for expedited approval involve grazing, energy storage and transmission, water delivery, highway construction and renewable energy.

“Rushing to approve more climate-killing fossil fuel projects while ignoring environmental harms is wrong, and using COVID-19 as an excuse is despicable,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “This massive giveaway to special interests shows the Trump administration only cares about currying favor with polluters. Poisoning our air and killing endangered wildlife won’t help fight the coronavirus.”

On June 4, President Trump cited COVID-19 when he signed an executive order requiring all federal agencies to invoke their emergency authority to bypass the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act and other environmental laws to approve projects as fast as possible. These records are the first that have been released highlighting what projects are under consideration under that order.

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Federal agencies already had emergency powers to respond quickly to actual emergencies like natural disasters. Since the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, this emergency power has been invoked 47 times to expedite recovery efforts from such disasters. Similarly, projects can be approved rapidly under the Endangered Species Act in emergency circumstances, with consultations happening afterwards.

As the records show, President Trump’s executive order allows any project to be approved anywhere in the country based on the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In June the Center sought information under the Freedom of Information Act from every federal agency involved in the approval of infrastructure projects. After every federal agency refused to provide any records, the Center filed suit in federal court to force the release of information.

“These documents show that dozens of dangerous projects could be rubber-stamped without any environmental review,” said Hartl. “We’ll fight every one of them in court if need be to stop this administration’s relentless assault on our environment.”

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At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature - to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.

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