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Trump Administration Proposes NEPA Overhaul

Drew Angerer/Getty Images Trump Administration Proposes NEPA Overhaul
The law requires the federal government to assess the environmental and other impacts of federal actions.

The Trump administration has proposed several changes in the regulation governing how the federal government fulfills its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The law, enacted in 1970, requires the federal government to assess the environmental and other impacts of federal actions like permitting infrastructure projects prior to making final decisions. The changes proposed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality include cutting down review times, limiting consideration of factors like climate change from NEPA analysis, allowing some developers to do their own reviews and expanding the use of categorical exclusions that eliminate further impact analysis for certain-sized projects.

On January 9, the White House released President Trump's remarks on the proposed NEPA regulations. NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions, including the issuance of federal permits and other approvals, as well as when providing federal funding.

According to Environmental Quality Chairwoman Mary Neumayr, “The goal of NEPA is to ensure well-informed decision-making. But the process can be unnecessarily complex, burdensome and protracted. A lengthy process can delay or even derail important projects to modernize our nation’s infrastructure, manage our federal lands and waters and restore our environment.”

Here are some of President’s Trump’s comments on the proposal:

“From day one, my administration has made fixing this regulatory nightmare a top priority. And we want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways bigger, better, faster, and we want to build them at less cost,” said President Trump in his remarks.

“That is why, for the first time in over 40 years, today we are issuing a proposed new rule under the National Environmental Policy Act to completely overhaul the dysfunctional bureaucratic system that has created these massive obstructions. Now, we’re going to have very strong regulation, but it’s going to go very quickly. And if it doesn’t pass, it’s going to not pass quickly. It doesn’t have to take 10 years or much longer than that,” added Trump. “These proposed reforms will reduce traffic in our cities, connect our rural communities and get Americans where they need to go more quickly and more safely.”

The Nature Conservancy, however, is urging the administration to reexamine recommendations it had made rather than implementing new tools to reform NEPA. Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer at The Nature Conservancy, released the following statement:

“The National Environmental Policy Act is one of the United States’ foundational environmental laws, responsible for helping improve the quality of our air, water and ecosystems while giving members of the public a greater voice in the health and future of their communities. The best way to achieve more efficient and effective project decisions is to work collaboratively to identify environmental issues early in the design process. Setting arbitrary, time-certain deadlines for completion of project reviews and simply limiting the scope of projects and impacts that must be considered will not improve the quality of NEPA analysis, will do little to increase efficiency and does not address underlying issues of agency cooperation and stakeholder engagement.

With climate change impacts bringing severe consequences to many communities across the nation, NEPA provides a tool for assessing how actions affect greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change to people, their livelihoods and the environment. We recognize the challenges and complexity of such assessments, particularly for indirect impacts, but those challenges are not a reason to neglect or avoid such analysis, as these changes propose.

The Nature Conservancy continues to support efforts to improve the NEPA process on the ground. However, several of the changes proposed today would reduce the law’s safeguards, transparency and inclusiveness. To deliver on the basic purpose of NEPA—ensuring federal agencies consider the environmental consequences of their actions and inform the public about them—we need to retain strong scientific standards, support thorough analysis and continue robust public engagement. We urge the administration to reconsider proposed changes that will not improve the process but instead will move NEPA away from its intended purpose.

When the administration first set out to reassess how it should enforce NEPA, we provided a number of detailed recommendations to achieve many of the goals articulated through better implementation and enforcement of existing regulations rather than a broad overhaul. As we analyze the administration’s proposal, we encourage the administration to reexamine those recommendations and the tools already at its disposal rather than inventing new ones to reform NEPA.”

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