Did Infrastructure Week 2020 come early?
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The White House announced Thursday that it is proposing a new rule to modernize environmental reviews that it says delay energy and infrastructure projects vital to U.S. economic success.
The new rule called the "One Federal Decision" aims to ease environmental regulation reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that have not been changed in more than 40 years on certain projects that do not get significant federal funding, which will make it easier to build pipelines, airports, mines and other types of infrastructure to benefit American workers and families.
"The administration is committed to ensuring that we are good stewards of our environment while supporting American prosperity," President Trump said in a Thursday statement.
President Trump said the new rule will uphold America's high standards of environmental health during a Thursday press briefing to announce the rule.
"We will not stop until America's infrastructure is the envy of the world again," Trump said, adding that the regulations in place today have slowed America's progress, and projects end up costing "five times as much" as they would have without having to meet such costly and complex requirements needed for environmental reviews.
The proposed rule would give environmental reviews a two-year limit to speed up the process and reduce delays in the development of various infrastructure projects. The rule would also specify review page limits, information sharing and better definitions of environmental effects and other terms to clarify the review process and decisions.
"The rule would not exclude the greenhouse gas emissions and invites comment," Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chair Mary B. Neumayr said during a press briefing call Thursday. "It's important to note that it would reform the process but would not change the environmental law or regulation, such as the Clean Air or Clean Water or Endangered Species Acts. Nothing in the proposal would eliminate protection."
"An improved environmental review and permitting process will allow us to continue our leadership and improve quality of life for all Americans," she added.
Under today's NEPA rules that have not been changed since the 1970s, the average length of time for an environmental review is four-and-a-half years and the average number of pages in an environmental statement is 600, Neumayr said.
NEPA can influence "a wide variety of projects -- roads, airports, water infrastructure, energy projects, agriculture, fishery, and environmental restoration projects," she said, adding that "over time, [NEPA] is complex and time-consuming for all agencies, project applicants and average Americans seeking permits."
Not everyone is convinced the proposed rule will ensure that the country's efforts to maintain environmental health remain as rigorous as they were under the old NEPA, however.
"The Trump administration’s proposal to change [NEPA] is a thinly veiled sellout to corporate polluters at the expense of our communities’ clean air, water, and health," Greenpeace USA Political and Business Strategist Charlie Cray said in a statement. "Gutting this bedrock environmental law is a blatant attempt to prevent action addressing climate change and an attack on every neighborhood across the country."
Cray argued that Trump's proposed rule excludes "long-term effects on climate considerations from federal projects" and redefines the term "major federal action," which will "let oil and gas companies run roughshod over communities in harm’s way and be catastrophic for the climate in the long run."
"Trump brags about clean air and clean water every chance he gets, but every action he actually takes simply brings more pollution," he added. "These NEPA changes are no different. If we want healthier communities and a path to stopping climate change, Trump has got to go."
A senior administration clarified during the call that if a project "would require NEPA yesterday, it will require NEPA under the current proposal."
"This proposal does not exclude a specific federal action from activity," the official said. "Certain things aren't necessarily covered under NEPA today -- certain mandatory provisions of law, for example -- but to the extent it is a discretionary authorization, that authorization will be examined, and the cause that is reasonably foreseeable, which is a consequence of that action needs to be considered within the entire context of human and natural environment."
"In general, it's a look at, hey, what's happening today? And what's the additional change fo this proposal? That's the way it'll work today, and that's the way it'll work tomorrow," he added.
The Trump administration has focused largely on enacting deregulatory measures put in place during the Obama administration or earlier and is expected to deliver a $3,100 income increase to U.S. families in the coming years, according to the White House.