Trump reins in major environmental law to speed big projects

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President Donald Trump speaks during a law enforcement briefing in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that he is rolling back a foundational Nixon-era environmental law that he says stifles infrastructure projects, but that is credited with keeping big construction projects from fouling up the environment and ensuring there is public input on major projects.

“Together we’re reclaiming America’s proud heritage as a nation of builders and a nation that can get things done,” Trump said.

Trump was in Atlanta to announce changes to National Environmental Policy Act regulations for how and when authorities must conduct environmental reviews, making it easier to build highways, pipelines, chemical and solar plants and other projects.

The 1970 law changed environmental oversight in the United States by requiring federal agencies to consider whether a project would harm the air, land, water or wildlife, and giving the public the right of review and input.

Critics called Trump's move a cynical attempt to limit the public’s ability to examine and influence proposed projects under one of the country’s bedrock environmental protection laws.

“This may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that works to save endangered species.

Trump has made slashing government regulation a hallmark of his presidency and held it out as a way to boost jobs. Environmental groups say the regulatory rollbacks threaten public health and make it harder to curb global warming. With Congress and the administration divided over how to increase infrastructure investment, the president is relying on his deregulation push to demonstrate progress.

Among the major changes in the new rule: limiting when federal environmental reviews of projects are mandated, and capping how long federal agencies and the public have to evaluate and comment on any environmental impact of a project.