(CNN) — President Donald Trump announced regulatory changes to the National Environmental Policy Act on Wednesday, a change that will speed up approval of federal projects such as mines, highways, water infrastructure, and gas pipelines — effectively weakening what’s considered to be a landmark conservation law.
Trump announced the implementation of the newly revised regulations in Georgia at the UPS Hapeville Airport Hub, which is set to benefit from the expedited review of a highway expansion project that will allow the hub’s operations to be more efficient.
Trump claimed that “mountains and mountains of red tape” slowed the approval and development of infrastructure projects, but added that “all of that ends today.”
“Today’s action completely modernizes the environmental review process under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. We are cutting the federal permitting timeline … for a major project from up to 20 years or more … down to two years or less,” Trump said, later adding that at “the same time, we’ll maintain America’s gold standard environmental protections.”
Trump announced his administration’s plans to rewrite the NEPA regulations in January, saying at the time that the existing regulations “(led to) endless delays, waste money, keep projects from breaking ground and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers.”
The administration claims the change will speed up the process for getting environmental reviews approved that are required for major infrastructure projects.
“You spend three, four, five years on the environmental review before you ever break ground. That’s a problem,” Environmental Protection Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler said in an interview with Gray TV.
Environmental advocacy groups view the policy change as another example of the Trump administration dismantling important conservation safety guards that protect the environment and public health from pollution.
The change “drastically curtails environmental reviews for thousands of federal agency projects nationwide, a move that will weaken safeguards for air, water, wildlife and public lands,” the Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group, said in a statement responding to the decision.
NEPA, signed into law in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, is considered one of the foundational environmental laws formed at the beginning of the modern environmental movement. Rolling back this policy “may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years,” according to Brett Hartl, Center for Biological Diversity government affairs director.
“The Trump administration is turning back the clock to when rivers caught fire, our air was unbreathable, and our most beloved wildlife was spiraling toward extinction. The foundational law of the modern environmental movement has been turned into a rubber stamp to enrich for-profit corporations, and we doubt the courts will stand for that,” Hartl said in a statement.
Environmental advocacy groups such as the National Resource Defense Council Inc. and the Sierra Club believe that the change will harm minority communities more than others.
“NEPA gives a voice to communities whose health and safety would be threatened by destructive projects, and it is despicable that the Trump administration is seeking to silence them,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement. “As the country faces a global pandemic and grapples with persistent racial injustice, the last thing communities need is an attack on this bedrock environmental and civil rights law.”
But Mike Sommers, the President and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, which represents America’s oil and natural gas industry, said in a statement that the regulatory changes are “essential to US energy leadership and environmental progress, providing more certainty to jumpstart not only the modernized pipeline infrastructure we need to deliver cleaner fuels but highways, bridges and renewable energy.”
He claimed that the changes “will help accelerate the nation’s economic recovery and advance energy infrastructure while continuing necessary environmental reviews.”