Trump directs departments to bypass environmental regulations

By on 09/06/2020
Agencies should “take all reasonable measures to speed infrastructure investments” Trump wrote in an executive order on Thursday evening. Picture courtesy of Thomas H McRonny via Pixabay

Donald Trump has signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to waive environmental restrictions in order to fast-track infrastructure projects such as mines, highways and pipelines.

The president said this action was necessary to strengthen the economy and create jobs following the dramatic economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The order, signed on Thursday evening, will affect how agencies can apply laws such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which currently require public consultation and environmental impact assessments before construction work on federal lands can begin.

It directs secretaries of the Transportation Department, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of the Interior, the Defence Department and the head of the Army Corps of Engineers to use emergency powers to waive “unnecessary regulatory delays”, arguing that the move will strengthen the economy and create jobs. Federal agencies are required to identify projects to expedite and report back to the White House within 30 days.

“From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays,” Trump wrote in the order. “The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.”

Critics were quick to condemn the move. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said bypassing critical environmental protections presents a direct threat to the environment and the many vulnerable communities disproportionately affected by the climate crisis.

“Without these important safeguards, American taxpayers could spend billions of dollars on projects that destroy endangered ecosystems, are unable to withstand the effects of climate change and threaten the safety of American families,” she said.

Marcie Keever, legal director for Friends of the Earth, said the Trump administration was “using the cover of a health crisis to cater to corporate polluters’ desires instead of protecting Americans.”

Experts also questioned the president’s authority to waive existing legislation. Joel Mintz, a former EPA enforcement and supervisory attorney, told the Guardian it was “far from clear that the president has the legal authority to do this.”

Meanwhile, Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler announced plans last week to draw up new guidelines for how the agency conducts its cost-benefit analysis associated with Clean Air Act regulations. The proposed new rule would weaken future air pollution controls, and Wheeler said the agency intends to propose similar adjustments to water, land and chemical rules within the next three years.

Miles Keogh, executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, told the Guardian the EPA’s new guidelines would cut out “the most important factor to consider when the agency is trying to decide whether an action protecting public health is worth it, which is public health.”

About Natalie Leal

Natalie is a freelance journalist whose work has been published by The Sun Online, The Guardian, Novara Media, Positive News, and Welfare Weekly, among others. She also writes reports and case studies on global business trends for behavioural insights agency, Canvas8. Prior to working as a journalist Natalie worked for the public sector in social services for several years. She switched careers in 2013 after winning a fully funded NCTJ in a national writing competition. She holds a Masters degree in social anthropology from Sussex University where she specialised in processes of social change and international conflict and reconciliation processes.

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