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07-20-20 | Legislation

Trump Administration Limits NEPA

Industry Associations Criticize the President's Decision

Minimalized NEPA restrictions will create an easier process for federal infrastructure projects to get approved.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has been in place for 50 years. This act established a set of requirements for federal agencies to adhere to regarding the effects of proposed actions on the environment. NEPA covers a broad range of measures that include the decisions made on permits, the selection of land management actions, the construction of highways and other infrastructure, and much more.

In mid-July, the Trump Administration made alterations to NEPA that would limit the influence it had on infrastructure projects. The following statement was made to illuminate the motivation for the White House's decision, "The Trump Administration is issuing a final rule that will modernize and accelerate environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) so that infrastructure can be built in a timely, efficient and affordable manner."

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The focus is on decreasing the time it takes to get projects approved. In this way, federal developments in highways, power plants, and pipelines will get permitted more quickly and consequently be finished sooner. The President's action has received a mixed response. Certain entities appreciate the prioritizing of economic advancements that had previously faced long delays due to NEPA. However, many individuals and organizations have spoken out about the environmental damage that could result in the minimized NEPA restrictions.

Mary Neumayr, chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, elaborated on the reasoning for these actions. She explained, "The final rule will make the NEPA process more efficient and effective, ensure consideration of environmental impacts of major projects and activities, and result in more timely decisions that support the development of modern, resilient infrastructure." Neumayr cited that the process for federal agencies to synthesize complete environmental impact statements, a requirement for NEPA, often exceeds 600 pages leading to a review process that averages four and a half years.

The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) reprimanded the President's decision in saying, "This unconscionable action to short-circuit core environmental protections will exacerbate the global climate crisis and will have a devastating impact on the ability of the American people, especially those in black and underserved communities, to weigh in on projects that affect their health and well-being." The association's statements went on to push congress to overturn the changes through utilizing the Congressional Review Act.

The American Planning Association (APA) was also outspoken in their disapproval of the administration's decision. APA officials have been vocal on their perspective of NEPA when the progress of altering the legislation began in January. They "spoke out against the proposed changes, citing increased costs of development and future disaster recovery shouldered by taxpayers and communities, in addition to making us all more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change."

The exact impact of the NEPA overhaul is in question. The polarizing opinions have created a sense of pessimism concerning the negative effect that may result from less restricted infrastructure projects, and optimism, regarding the likely economic momentum established in forming this developmental catalyst.

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