While the world focuses on a global pandemic and brutal racial discrimination, President Trump is sneakily squashing environmental laws. The Trump administration has directed federal agencies to waive many environmental requirements as a way to light a fire under the pandemic-strained economy.
Under the president’s directive, federal agencies are now seeking workarounds in the usually time-consuming processes of getting approval for building highways, fossil fuel export terminals, pipelines and other energy and transportation infrastructure. Usually, large projects like these require applying for approval under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Signed by President Nixon in 1970, this law requires agencies to assess the environmental consequences of their planned actions and sometimes seek better alternatives. NEPA also gives people a voice in new projects and considers whether these projects affect any endangered species.
“Unnecessary regulatory delays will deny our citizens opportunities for jobs and economic security, keeping millions of Americans out of work and hindering our economic recovery from the national emergency,” Trump wrote in his executive order.
Many industries and developers cheered. But environmentalists pounced on the new order. “Instead of trying to ease the pain of a nation in crisis, President Trump is focused on easing the pain of polluters,” said Gina McCarthy, a former EPA administrator who now heads the Natural Resources Defense Council. She characterized this move as “utterly senseless” and an abuse of emergency powers.
Agencies will have 30 days to provide the president with a report of expedited projects. Some environmentalists say the new order is unlawful and will likely end up in court. Those who stand to lose the most are endangered species and humans in lower socioeconomic brackets, including many people of color.
“These reviews are required by law to protect people from industries that can harm our health and our communities,” McCarthy said. “Getting rid of them will hit those who live closest to polluting facilities and highways the hardest—in many of the same communities already suffering the most from the national emergencies at hand.”
Image via Gage Skidmore