Trump Undoing 50-Year-Old Environmental Review Law Because It's Too Old For Him Probably
Photo: National Parks Conservation Assn, Creative Commons License 2.0

Donald Trump announced yesterday his administration plans to scrap one of the country's most basic environmental laws, making it easier for major infrastructure and energy projects to be built with minimal review of how they'd affect the environment. Through new rules set to be published today, Trump would bypass the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to analyze the long-term environmental implications of major construction projects before approving them.

The new rules would allow more projects to avoid review altogether, and would shorten the time allowed for review. Worse, agencies would no longer have to consider environmental effects of a project beyond the immediate scope of its being built, so highways could be built with no thought as to how they'd pollute a neighborhood over time or how increased traffic would contribute to global warming.

The rules are a great big gift to Trump's pals in the real estate and fossil fuel industries, in the name of removing the "burdens" of regulation. If these rules survive court challenges, a pipeline company could decide to drain an actual swamp -- without filing an environmental impact statement.

Announcing the rules at the White House yesterday, Trump called NEPA a "regulatory nightmare," and singled out a few projects built in sensitive areas as proof it needed to be scrapped.

"We want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, bigger, better fast, and we want to build them at less cost," he said.

"Today it can take more than ten years to build just a very simple road," he continued, adding, "and usually you're not able to even get the permit."

Then Trump trotted out examples of how in the good old days we dammed rivers and built bridges quickly and everyone made an assload of money, and no one had to think about air or water or how the black families next door to a refinery got far more cancer than the owners two states away. (He left that last bit unstated.) Those nitpickers at the Wall Street Journal felt compelled to point out that all Trump's examples, like the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam, "predated by decades modern environmental concerns and standards, or research on the impacts of such projects." We'll assume he added that his old LaSalle ran great.

At the announcement event, attended by businesspeople, state and local officials, and hardhatted guys from unions for the construction and oil bidnisses, Trump was asked by a reporter whether he still thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax. That 2012 tweet is still up, but Trump insisted he's a believer, kinda sorta, saying

No, no. Not at all. Nothing's a hoax. Nothing's a hoax about that. It's a very serious subject. I want clean air. I want clean water.

"Clean air" and "clean water" have nothing to do with climate, and when most Republicans say climate change is real, they usually remember the magic phrase "I believe the climate is always changing," but Trump can't be bothered with that. Nonetheless, the Daily Beast rather credulously ran with the headline "Trump Admits Climate Change Is 'Not a Hoax' After Proposing Rollback of Environmental Law."

No, he didn't admit a thing and you know better. Maybe it was "ironic."

The proposed regulations would create a whole new option for some projects, which would be allowed to go forward with no environmental assessment at all if they only have "minimum federal funding or involvement," according to Mary B. Neumayr, who chairs what's still called the "White House Council on Environmental Quality," at least on paper.

Here's the biggest, most insidious aspect of the proposed rule changes, as summarized by the New York Times:

The changes would also eliminate the need for agencies to consider the "cumulative impacts" of projects, which in recent years courts have said include studying the planet-warming consequences of emitting more greenhouse gases. And they would set hard deadlines of one year to complete assessments of smaller projects and two years to complete studies of larger ones.

Neumayer emphasized that we shouldn't get too upset about a trivial detail like allowing military bases to be built in coastal areas that will see increasing flooding in the future. Honestly, you alarmists! She was careful to

[stress] that the changes did not prevent or exclude consideration of the impact of greenhouse gases; consideration would no longer be required.

Isn't that nice? So we're sure the coal and oil lobbyists running the EPA and Interior Department will tell their teams that it's perfectly fine to keep considering greenhouse gases in future reviews.

Also, the Times notes that the proposal carefully avoids the words "climate change" -- because after all, it's not real, and the rules also don't say regulators must assess the impact on faeries and leprechauns, either. Even so, that's going to smack right into judicial rulings on NEPA:

Courts have interpreted the requirement to consider "cumulative consequences" as a mandate to study the effects of allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It also has meant understanding the impacts of rising sea levels and other results of climate change on a given project.

If the rules go through, then agencies wouldn't have to look at causes or effects of climate change. Go develop the new oil field without any consideration of how many tons of carbon dioxide will go into the atmosphere, or the methane released when it's in operation. And likewise, there'd be no need to look at whether a brand new coastal freeway will be under water in a few decades.

Hysterical climate alarmists point out that's not just dumb, it's wasteful, not to mention fucking illegal. New York university environmental law prof Richard L. Revesz told theTimesthat since NEPA is pretty clear in calling for analysis of all environmental effects of a proposed project, the administration can't legally get away with making rules to nullify laws it doesn't like:

"A regulation can't change the requirements of a statute as interpreted by the courts," Mr. Revesz said. In fact, he argued, it is more likely that federal agencies will be sued for inadequate reviews, "thereby leading to far longer delays than if they had done a proper analysis in the first place."

Mind you, Revesz is talking about federal courts that existed prior to being filled with pro-industry judges chosen by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society.

And just to add to the fun, NPR reports that the administration would like to go even farther and allow industries in some cases to conduct their own environmental reviews, with government agencies providing a little oversight and signing off on the final project. Can't see how that could possibly go wrong, although since Trump has filled so many agencies with industry lobbyists, the difference may be minimal anyway.

One small mercy: Americans may have a chance to vote these fuckers out before these rules go into place. Because of the complexity of the changes, the usual 60-day public comment period may be extended, and public hearings are also required. Add in the inevitable raft of court challenges, and it's not clear the rules can be implemented before November, or even January 20, 2021.

How's that for a motivation to get out and knock on doors?

[NYT / WSJ / NPR / Daily Beast / Photo: National Parks Conservation Association, Creative Commons License 2.0]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.


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