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The Trump administration wants to make it easier to approve big new infrastructure projects - think oil pipelines and highways. A proposal announced today would limit the environmental reviews for them, and in some cases, agencies likely won't have to consider how the projects will contribute to climate change. NPR's Jeff Brady reports environmental groups plan to challenge it.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, turned 50 years old on New Year's Day, but its future could look very different from its past.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We'll cut the federal permitting timeline for major projects down to two years, and ideally, we're going to try and get even less than that.
BRADY: That's much shorter than the four to seven years on average it takes now. At the White House, supporters stood behind the president, some in construction vests and others wearing cowboy hats. Today's announcement was part of Trump's effort to limit and roll back environmental regulations to boost the economy.
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TRUMP: But this is just the beginning. We'll not stop until our nation's gleaming new infrastructure has made America the envy of the world again. It used to be the envy of the world, and now we're like a third-world country. It's really sad.
BRADY: Beyond oil and gas and construction, other industries also support the changes to NEPA regulations. Jennifer Houston is president of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association. Her members are subject to NEPA reviews for things like grazing livestock on public land.
JENNIFER HOUSTON: These reforms are very exciting. They will streamline the process, reduce duplication, allow more local control and let our cattlemen, our beef producers, go on back to doing what they do best, and that's raise high-quality beef to feed the world.
BRADY: Environmental groups, though, say these changes will hurt the country in the long run. The National Environmental Policy Act was designed to make government decisions more transparent. It requires federal agencies to consider and publish the environmental effects of projects before approving them. The law also gives the public information about how decisions were made and an opportunity to comment on them.
The Trump proposal places new limits on virtually every element of the law. It could even exclude from review projects like oil pipelines that are mostly funded with private money, and agencies may only have to consider the environmental effects of building the pipeline, not the climate-changing consequences of burning all the oil that would flow through it. Steve Schima with the group Earthjustice says the changes also would make it more difficult to plan for the effects of climate change.
STEVE SCHIMA: Without NEPA, on a rebuffed consideration of climate change, we're not going to be building projects that are going to be able to withstand increased flooding, increased wildfires and more extreme weather.
BRADY: Among the proposed changes, the Trump administration wants to give companies a greater role in conducting environmental reviews, perhaps even allowing them to do the reviews with oversight from an agency. Christy Goldfuss with the Center for American Progress was an environmental official during the Obama administration.
CHRISTY GOLDFUSS: It's baffling that the Trump administration thinks handing the keys of environmental review to big polluters is going to pass muster.
BRADY: These are just proposed changes. The public will have at least 60 days to comment. There will be public hearings in Denver and Washington, D.C. Environmental groups likely will challenge them in court, which means they almost certainly wouldn't take effect until after next November's election. And if President Trump loses re-election, a Democratic president likely would abandon this proposal altogether.
Jeff Brady, NPR News.
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