President Trump announced plans Jan. 9 for the first comprehensive overhaul of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rules in more than 40 years. The proposal comes following his administration’s broader efforts to pare down environmental assessments pertaining to infrastructure projects, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The changes are designed to modernize and clarify environmental regulations in order to facilitate more effective and timely NEPA reviews by federal agencies. The proposed rule would establish time limits of two years for completion of environmental impact statements and one year for completion of environmental assessments.
Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairwoman Mary Nuemayr, who joined Trump at the White House Jan. 9, says the average time for federal agencies to complete environmental impact statements is four and a half years. “These delays deprive hardworking Americans of the benefits of modernized roads and bridges that allow them to more safely and quickly get to work and get home to their families,” she says.
According to the White House, agencies prepare approximately 170 environmental impact sheets a year, which are detailed documents running as long as 600 pages each. In total agencies conduct more than 10,000 environmental assessments a year.
While the proposal was commended by business groups, energy companies and construction unions, it was met with heavy criticism from environmentalists who believe infrastructure project reviews are critical as threats of climate change progress. The Center for Biological Diversity called the new regulation a “gift” from Trump to the fossil fuel industry in a press release and warned of the proposal’s cumulative impacts.
“Trump’s attack on NEPA means we’ll likely see more massive oil spills and other environmental catastrophes,” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, says in a statement. “Forcing federal agencies to ignore environmental threats is a disgraceful abdication of our responsibility to protect the planet for future generations.”
Industrial interests and building trade unions have backed Trump, saying NEPA has become a tool for environmental groups to block infrastructure projects. “We are fully supportive of the president’s initiative,” Sean McGarvey, North America’s Building Trade Unions president, said at the White House Jan. 9. McGarvey added that while the current NEPA regulations are well-intentioned, they have become “mired in a complex web of litigation and complexity and delay.”
A 60-day comment period and two open hearings will occur before the final regulation is delivered.