The Trump administration is proposing a new rule to modernize and accelerate environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) so that infrastructure can be built in "a timely, efficient, and affordable manner," the White House announced today.
"Modernizing environmental regulations will help bring new infrastructure projects to our communities that benefit American workers, farmers, and families," the White House said in a news posting.
The proposed rule would establish time limits of two years for completion of environmental impact statements and one year for completion of environmental assessments. The White House says the rule would "reduce unnecessary burdens and delays for environmental reviews." It also says that agencies would be allowed to establish procedures for adopting another agency’s determinations to increase efficiency, and that the rule would improve collaboration with state, local, and tribal governments.
The White House says that regulations guiding NEPA processes have not been comprehensively updated in over 40 years. It also says that the time taken to complete an environmental impact statement is now almost 5 years on average, and for highways has averaged over 7 years—leading to what the administration says is a hindrance for securing approval for road, bridge, airport, railway, and waterway projects.
Critics of the proposed rule have raised concerns that the changes to NEPA lack consideration for the impacts of infrastructure projects on climate change. A news report from the New York Times put it this way: "The changes would ... eliminate the need for agencies to consider the 'cumulative impacts' of projects, which in recent years courts have said include studying the planet-warming consequences of emitting more greenhouse gases." The Times report also notes that Democratic lawmakers like Speaker Nancy Pelosi have raised concerns that the changes would mean less scrutiny for "polluters" working on infrastructure projects.
In a press conference, White House Council on Environmental Quality Chairman Mary Neumayr said it is important to note that the changes are meant to reform the process of governmental review, but would not change environmental law or regulations such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act.
"Nothing in the proposal would eliminate the protections that Congress has enacted to safeguard our environment and the American people," Neumayr said in the press conference. "Today’s proposal has undergone extensive interagency review and the Council on Environmental Quality has carefully considered thousands of public comments."
SOURCE: The White House / The New York Times