WASHINGTON – The White House on Thursday introduced major changes to the nation's benchmark environmental protection law, moving to ease approval of major energy and infrastructure projects without detailed environmental review or consideration of climate change.
Many of the changes to the law — the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, a landmark measure that touches nearly every significant construction project in the country — had been long sought by the oil and gas industry as well as trade unions, which have argued that the review process is lengthy, cumbersome and used by environmental activists to drag out legal disputes and kill infrastructure projects.
Under the law, major federal projects like bridges, highways, pipelines or power plants that will have a significant impact on the environment require a review, or environmental impact statement, outlining potential consequences. The proposed new rules would narrow the range of projects that require such a review and impose strict new deadlines on completing assessments.
President Donald Trump, speaking in the Roosevelt Room at the White House, surrounded by city and county officials and labor union leaders in hard hats, criticized the law as a "regulatory nightmare."
"We want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, bigger, better, fast; and we want to build them at less cost," he said.
"Today it can take more than ten years to build just a very simple road," he continued, adding, "and usually you're not able to even get the permit."
The changes, which would affect the regulations that guide implementation of the law but not the law itself, are expected to appear in the federal register on Friday. There will be a 60-day window for public comment and two public hearings before a final regulation is issued, most likely in the fall.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, called the changes a giveaway to the fossil fuel industries.
"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," he said in a statement.
Rep. Rob Bishop of Utah, the ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the changes would bring "rationality" to federal bureaucracy.