WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is expected to announce his final plans to expedite permitting for major infrastructure like oil pipelines and road expansions in Atlanta on Wednesday, a move that environmentalists say will bypass public input.
The proposal to update how the 50-year old bedrock National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) is implemented is part of Trump’s broader campaign to cut environmental regulation to boost industry and fast-track projects that often take years to complete – an effort that has been blocked or slowed down by courts.
Just last week, a federal judge ordered the Dakota Access pipeline to shut down because the Army Corps of Engineers had failed to do an adequate NEPA impact study and the Supreme Court blocked construction of the Keystone XL line from Canada pending a deeper environmental review.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed the changes to NEPA in January, kicking off a public comment period. Officials had called the proposal “the most significant deregulatory proposal” of the Trump administration.
Two sources familiar with the plan said the final rule doesn’t differ significantly from the previous proposal, which sets time limits for environmental reviews and says federal agencies need not factor in the “cumulative impacts” of a project, which could include its impact on climate change.
The CEQ received over 1 million comments after the January proposal, many of which opposed the changes and offered evidence that they could have “harmful results,” said Caitlin McCoy, a staff attorney for the Harvard Law School Environmental and Energy Law Program.
This could make the rule vulnerable in lawsuits, she said.
“CEQ will need to show that it grappled with these adverse comments and considered all of the important aspects of making these changes, otherwise aspects of the regulations could be ruled arbitrary and capricious,” she said.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Aurora Ellis.