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Trump proposes massive environmental rollback to speed approval process

The president wants to overhaul of the half-century old National Environmental Policy Act, which was signed into law by Nixon.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump delivers remarks on proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, at the White House, on Jan. 9, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP

President Donald Trump on Thursday proposed rolling back enforcement of a landmark environmental law, reducing federal oversight of many major projects, from pipelines to commercial development, to speed the approval process.

He said the United States cannot compete "if a bureaucratic system holds us back from building what we need.”

Trump outlined the proposed overhaul of the half-century old National Environmental Policy Act at the White House. That 1970 law changed environmental oversight in the country by requiring federal agencies to consider the impact of major building projects on the land and on wildlife, and enshrined the public right to be told of the impacts and comment on them.

Trump called current enforcement of the law “big government at its absolute worst.''

Key among the changes proposed is one that would newly limit the requirement for federal environmental review to projects that have major federal funding.

The change would mean a range of predominantly privately funded and managed projects would not have to assess the environmental impact of their work and brief the public on them.

Other changes would limit that federal agencies take no more than two years to evaluate any environmental impact of projects, and limit the number

Anne Bradbury, head of an independent oil and gas producers trade group, said among the proposed changes are ones that will hasten the permitting of oil projects, including pipelines, on federal lands. The Trump administration has pushed hard for pipeline building to move ahead despite local challenges, along with calling for shortening the time and length of environmental reviews for projects.

Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups say the changes will exempt polluters from public scrutiny of their projects.

President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act into law on Jan. 1, 1970, as public outrage over the 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara, California, and other pollution of the country’s air, water and land spurred creation of the country’s major environmental protections.