WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will propose changes to the nation’s landmark environmental law Thursday that he says will allow more major construction projects, but which critics say threaten to worsen climate change.
The proposals – which will surely be challenged in court – come just a week after the government marked the 50th anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act.
The plan would basically ease environmental rules for construction projects that do not have significant federal funding. It would also shorten the length of federal reviews of these projects and would not allow regulators to assess the “cumulative” effects of a project on climate change.
The act’s regulations have not been updated in more than 40 years, Trump administration officials said, and now too often impede necessary projects ranging from major highways to oil and gas pipelines.
“The Trump Administration is focused on improving the environmental review and permitting process while ensuring a safe, healthy, and productive environment for all Americans,” said Dan Schneider, associate director for communications with the Council on Environmental Quality.
Critics said the changes will enable supporters of construction projects to discount their impact on climate change when seeking permits from the government. The results, they said, will be a worse environment with more deadly ramifications from climate change.
“Trump’s gift to the fossil fuel industry and special interests will silence ordinary Americans while giving polluters a free pass to trash the environment, destroy public lands and kill wildlife,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity.
Jay Timmons, president and CEO of the National Association of Manufacturers, applauded the proposed changes, saying “our hope is that these improvements will modernize infrastructure permitting” for projects like highways, bridges, power lines, and cell towers.
Trump and aides plan to detail their proposed changes later Thursday, with the president scheduled to give a speech on the topic at 11 a.m.
Deregulation has been a cornerstone of Trump’s presidency, and he figures to promote the issue during his re-election campaign this year.
In a Jan. 1 statement on the 50th anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act, Trump cited complaints about regulations and previewed his proposed changes.
People seeking permits for big projects “can face significant uncertainty and delays that can increase costs, derail important projects, and threaten jobs for American workers and labor union members,” Trump said.