July 15 (UPI) — President Donald Trump on Wednesday made sweeping changes to a pivotal environmental law, limiting public review of federal infrastructure projects to speed up approval for projects such as highways and pipelines.
Speaking at a UPS facility in Atlanta, Trump announced that his administration had completed a “top to bottom overhaul” of the National Environmental Policy Act, issuing a final rule he said would save hundreds of millions of dollars over a decade by reducing the time to complete reviews of infrastructure projects.
“For decades the single biggest obstacle to building a modern transportation system has been the mountains and mountains of bureaucratic red tape in Washington, D.C.,” Trump said. “All of that ends today.”
The final rule would establish a two-year limit to finish impact statements and a one-year limit for environmental assessments, according to the White House.
Other provisions were not specifically outlined in the White House’s announcement but in January Trump proposed eliminating a requirement for public agencies to consider the “cumulative” consequences of new projects, including how they impact climate change.
Martin Durbin, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute praised the final rule as “a big step forward and it’s about our nation maintaining its global competitiveness.”
“This will modernize and rationalize the permitting process so that we can get these projects built at a state and local level,” said Durbin.
Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council and former EPA chief, said the move was a “clear attempt to silence and sideline people” and to make it easier for industries to pollute communities.
“People have the right to weigh in before a highway project tears up their neighborhood or a pipeline goes through their backyard,” said McCarthy. “Steamrolling their concerns will mean more polluted air, more contaminated water, more health threats and more environmental destruction.”
The announcement came a day after Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden outlined a $2 trillion climate change plan.
On Wednesday, Biden’s campaign accused Trump of “cutting corners” with the rule change and ignoring calls for clean air and water from scientists and communities.
“No one should be fooled that Donald Trump is attempting to destroy a bipartisan, cornerstone law to distract from the fact that ‘Infrastructure Week’ never happened and never will happen as long as he is president,” said spokesman Matt Hill.