Trump’s NEPA Proposal

The Washington Post has an article on this: “Trump proposes change to environmental rules to speed up highway projects, pipelines and more.” The proposal is here.

The proposed rules would narrow the scope of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to assess the impact of a major project before a spade of dirt is turned and to include the public in the process.

The proposed regulations would redefine what constitutes a “major federal action” to exclude privately financed projects that have minimal government funding or involvement.

That interpretation of the law would make it much easier to build most pipelines, which have become controversial as activists have sought to block projects that make it easier to extract, transport or burn fossil fuels linked to climate change.

Other aspects of the proposal would set deadlines and page limits for environmental reviews, so that, with rare exceptions, agencies would have to finish their most exhaustive reviews within two years.

 

10 thoughts on “Trump’s NEPA Proposal”

  1. If anyone watched the actual White House press conference you couldn’t help but notice Trump was flanked by a ten-gallon-hat-wearing (female) member of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.

    It was also very interesting to hear former oil and gas lobbyist, now Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt turn to Trump and make this admission:

    “This is a really, really big proposal. It affects virtually every big decision made by the federal government that affects the environment, and I think it will be the most significant deregulatory proposal you ultimately implement.

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  2. I’m sure that it will make it easier to build powerlines, e.g. ones that link wind and solar resources to major cities as well. Or new train routes so that people can get out of cars.. or fixing roads and bridges..

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  3. A couple related NYT stories:

    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/09/climate/trump-nepa-environment.html (another take on today’s news)
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/03/climate/trump-nepa-climate-change.html (recent news about federal infrastructure impacts not having to take climate change into account)

    I will say that I don’t like laying the blame for this on Trump or even the Trump administration per se. Any other conservative administration would have been just as devoted to destroying environmental protections and protecting the destroyers.

    And on that note, 95 federal environmental protections now under attack:

    https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html

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    • Pileated… I have been involved in climate change analysis and I don’t actually think it’s taking it into account ( say a couple of pages) that’s the problem, but rather specific quantitative calculations that are ultimately meaningless because we know so little about how anything gets translated into specific impacts in the future.

      In fact, during the Obama administration CEQ rounded up agency NEPA folks and asked us about analyzing climate. The people at my workshop said “yes, for permitting power plants, that makes sense, but no, not for every oil and gas lease, grazing allotment or road reconstruction.” I do think there’s a reasonable middle ground, but as long as interest groups litigate projects they don’t like, NEPA folks will have to analyze climate change to increasingly ridiculous levels. But delving into all that is much more difficult than reporting “not enough analysis of climate change so Trump is bad.”

      One person’s “rebuilding national infrastructure” is another’s “protecting destroyers of the environment.” The AP story in our local paper called the projects “commercial.” Since we’re the beneficiaries of an interstate highway widening due to safety issues, I wonder whether characterizing projects as “commercial” is fair or needlessly divisive. I’m sure some person probably had to write up a section on how widening I25 could potentially lead to more use and therefore contribute to climate change. With contractors guessing how many more people would be driving and so on..but would there be more people or would the people avoiding narrow I25 just take and clog up a different road (?), and so on and so on. At some point “analysis” has so many guesses involved it’s better to just outline the possible impacts. But judges may not agree.

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  4. I’m sure this will get picked apart (and litigated) by many, but I’ll wait for a red-lined version. I saw they did leave some things alone. But I wanted to look at how they were going to free up agency permits (for e.g. pipelines) from NEPA. Here’s a change in the definition of “major federal action.”

    “Major Federal action also does not include non-Federal projects with minimal Federal
    funding or minimal Federal involvement where the agency cannot control the outcome of
    the project.”

    Permits obviously control the outcome of projects (but who knows what “minimal” means). There are plenty of court cases that say a federal permit is a federal action subject to NEPA, and obviously some things that require permits have some of the most significant environmental impacts. The law itself is pretty aspirational, but I would guess that things requiring permits (dams, highways, mines) were on the top of the legislators’ lists when they created NEPA (rather than purely federal activities, like public lands). The bull is still loose in the China shop, and it’s unfortunate we’ll have to put a lot of effort into putting things back together again. But yes, lots of jobs for lawyers.

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  5. china shop

    Here’s an analysis by a law firm that seems to usually represent development interests. They generally discount the effects of the NEPA changes, except for pipeline permits, more distant effects (e. g. climate change, especially because they would get rid of cumulative effects requirements) and easier categorical exclusions. I would add that reducing the comment period to 30 days for EISs, especially complicated actions like forest plans, would significantly reduce the ability of the public to meaningfully participate.
    https://www.endangeredspecieslawandpolicy.com/will-long-awaited-changes-to-nepa-materially

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  6. https://electrek.co/2020/04/10/egeb-white-house-nepa-email-address-department-energy-hydrokinetic-turbine-technology/

    Now Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) has flagged up a transparency violation around NEPA in a letter on Thursday to Mary Neumayr, the chairwoman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), according to the Hill. Carper wrote:

    “It has come to my attention that, in addition to receiving public comments on this rule through http://www.regulations.gov, the White House accommodated industry requests for the use of an email address, NEPA-Update@ceq.eop.gov, to receive comments on the proposed regulations.

    This practice appears to violate Section 206(d) of the E-Government Act of 2002, which requires agencies to make dockets and comments submitted on proposed rules available online.

    In doing so, the White House created a two track system to receive and process comments — one track for those working closely with the White House and another for the rest of the public.”

    (Kind of makes you want to oppose them just out on principle.)

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    • That article said
      “In January, as Electrek reported, the Trump administration overturned the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), enabling federal agencies to not have to consider the climate impact of projects. That will make it easier for fossil-fuel projects to proceed.”

      In January they put out a Proposed Regulation.. so I’m thinking that’s not the same as “overturning” a statute- nor is it a final Rule. Am I being pedantic? Are they being sloppy? If they’re sloppy about the easily checked things, could they be sloppy about not-so-easily checked things?

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