Jan 9, 2020

Trump announces rule changes to exempt big projects from environmental review

Photo: Yasin Ozturk/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

President Trump on Thursday announced that his administration is vastly narrowing the scope of a 50-year-old law governing environmental reviews of large infrastructure and energy projects.

Why it matters: The proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will make the process to review big-ticket fossil-fuel projects like the Keystone XL Pipeline easier and faster, while also excluding consideration of climate change.

  • It is the first major change to the Nixon-era law in more than three decades, per the New York Times.

The big picture: The move is the latest in dozens of regulatory rollbacks the Trump administration has pursued since 2017, many of them focusing on environmental issues.

  • Trump campaigned on undoing the Obama administration's aggressive environmental and climate agenda, though in many cases Trump has gone even further than simply rolling back regulations — such as Thursday's move.

Details: The change will streamline the process for acquiring approval for the projects — limiting agencies to a two-year timeline for conducting their comprehensive environmental reviews.

  • It would limit the range of which projects call for a government review by creating a category for non-major projects, which would not require review. Projects that do not have major federal funding or involvement would no longer require assessment.
  • Agencies will be able to ignore "cumulative" consequences of major infrastructure projects — which courts have interpreted as weighing a project's impact on climate change.
  • Instead of seeking approval for projects from the relevant agencies individually, the government would be required to issue one decision on any given project.

What he's saying: Trump said projects are "tied up and bogged down by an outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process," referring to it as "big government at its absolute worst."

The other side: Environmental groups and Democratic politicians condemned the move. Richard Revesz, a professor of environmental and regulatory law at NYU School of Law, said the rule change could ultimately — and ironically — prolong reviews even more because critics will sue, tying up the projects in court.

What we're watching: To what degree companies building projects that undergo NEPA reviews will seek to do more comprehensive reviews than the law requires to defend against likely lawsuits, per Axios' Amy Harder.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Amid chaos, new decade brings big global warming changes

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

We’ve had enough news in recent days to suggest we’re 13 months, not days, into this decade.

Driving the news: President Trump pushes the biggest changes to environmental law in 50 years, the world’s biggest investor is going big on global warming and House Democrats are going it alone on climate policy. And this all just happened last week!

Go deeperArrowJan 13, 2020

Where top 2020 candidates stand on climate policy and the Green New Deal

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at a rally May 13. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Green New Deal resolution, introduced in February by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), has helped cement climate change as a real topic in the 2020 presidential race.

What's happening: More Democratic candidates have pitched climate change policy that goes beyond the Green New Deal, largely to prepare for events like CNN's "climate crisis" town hall. The GND — which is more of a call to arms than a strict policy proposal — outlines a 10-year mobilization plan to move the country toward a 100% carbon-free power system and a decarbonized economy.

Go deeperArrowUpdated Feb 5, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump administration set to remove protections for waterways

A red-winged blackbird and a great egret at Madrona Marsh Wetlands in Torrance, California. Photo: Citizen of the Planet/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The Trump administration is set to unveil Thursday the final rules that scale back environmental protections for water bodies including streams and wetlands, the New York Times first reported.

Why it matters: This is one of the biggest environmental rollbacks by the Trump administration yet. Withdrawing and replacing the Obama-era rule that expanded protections has been a big priority for powerful industries such as the agricultural sector, real estate developers and fossil fuel producers, Axios' Ben Geman notes.

Go deeperArrowJan 23, 2020