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White House proposes sweeping overhaul of federal environmental reviews

Proposal invokes praise, sharp criticism

President Donald Trump speaks in Monroe, Louisiana, in November 2020. Evan Vucci, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — The Trump administration on Thursday announced it intends to overhaul the federal environmental review process, implementing substantive changes to the law for the first time in 40 years to modernize and streamline reviews on key infrastructure projects across the country.

The move invoked widespread praise among industry and conservative politicians and condemnation from environmental groups who say this is just one more proposal by President Donald Trump intended to eviscerate necessary protections.

“There has been nothing more detrimental to the development of transportation, clean water and energy infrastructure than America’s broken environmental review and permitting process. Today, the administration took another step forward in bringing logic and rationality to the federal bureaucracy,” said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.

“Reducing redundancies, enhancing coordination with states and tribes, clarifying ambiguous terms and establishing time frames for the completion of paperwork is the 20/20 vision we needed,” Bishop said. “Fringe-left special interest groups will continue to scream bloody murder, but these actions by President Trump will ensure the government works better for all.”

In the announcement to “modernize” the National Environmental Policy Act, the White House noted it had not been comprehensively updated in more than 40 years and has become bogged down with reviews that on average take nearly five years to complete, and in the case of highways, seven years on average.

“Securing approval for roads, bridges, airports, railways and waterways has been significantly hindered under the existing regulations,” the White House said.

The proposed rule would establish time limits of two years for completion of environmental impact statements and one year for completion of environmental assessments. It also specifies page limits.

Vickie Patton, general counsel with the Environmental Defense Fund, called the move “illegal” and one that takes the country in the wrong direction.

“The Trump administration’s effort to punch loopholes into long-standing protections under the National Environmental Policy Act would put communities at risk and worsen climate change,” she said. “The Trump administration has a legal and moral duty to protect all Americans, especially our children, from climate pollution and industrial environmental threats.”

Similar criticism came from the Center for American Progress.

Today’s move isn’t about “streamlining” or “modernizing,” as the Trump administration claims, said Cindy Goldfuss, the organization’s managing director. “It’s about clearing the way for more polluting pipelines and dirty fossil fuel projects — plain and simple. If finalized, the proposed regulations would give the Trump administration the opportunity to race through project approvals without considering the long-term impacts.”

But the American Energy Alliance praised Trump for being bold enough to try to depoliticize the environmental review process.

“Americans need (and deserve) updated infrastructure to get them safely where they need to go and ensure affordable, reliable energy arrives to their cities, communities, businesses and homes,” said Thomas Pyle, the alliance’s president. “Radical environmental groups have twisted the intent behind NEPA and leveraged the legal system to their advantage in a coordinated effort to slow and stop progress, and I welcome the news that President Trump plans stop them in his commitment to make America great again.”

The Western Caucus also praised the move by Trump, with Rep. Doug Lamalfa, R-Calif., stressing that residents in his state can no longer stomach the lengthy delays in forestry management and power line clearing projects. California suffered its worst wildfire season on record in 2018.