Trump strikes again at Environmental Protection Laws

Image source: The NewYork Times

Under the garb of the pandemic-led economic crisis in U.S., the Trump administration has taken sweeping steps towards rolling back pertinent environmental protection laws. The administration has introduced various changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (hereinafter, “NEPA”) which was enacted in 1970. These changes include dilution of the evaluation framework used to assess the environmental impact and effects of multiple projects like pipelines, highways, telecom networks, public infrastructure, bridges and energy projects. The goal of such an action is to drive out the complex procedure in setting up such economically valued establishments and ease the work of business groups and companies involved in the projects.

The recent move by the Trump administration has led to undermining of the 50-year-old law and is currently being challenged by environmentalists on various grounds of possible climate change implications and health hazards.

The new changes introduced have been vehemently criticized as they seek to overturn the interpretations granted by Courts which had been hailed as progressive steps in environmental welfare. Some of the new steps include a range of weakened environmental regulations such as:

  • The federal review process of projects has now been narrowed down to only ‘major’ actions. If classified as a ‘Non-major’ action, then these projects will be subjected to a minimal level of review.
  • Unlike the previous regulations which considered the cumulative impact of the projects both direct and indirect; in the present form only foreseeable direct consequences shall be taken into consideration.
  • Keeping in mind the wide time taken in completing an Environment Impact Statement (EIS) the House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has further proposed to limit the periods of EIS by setting a 1 -year and 2-year span depending on the intensity of the action. However, given that various judicial decisions are going to be in conflict with these new regulations, this step won’t be materialized as litigants are going to challenge various projects in light of those precedents.
  • A central regulatory body has also been proposed to be set-up under these new regulations combining the different bodies into one for speedier approval of projects.
  • A new definition regarding ‘major federal actions’ will also be added to declassify low-budget and less participated projects from the approval regime.
  • Further companies have been provided the discretion to make a self-environmental assessment under an agency’s supervision which will be set up further.

Various environmental advocates have advanced the concern that this move seeks to circumvent the law that has been interpreted by the Courts and shall further inhibit the concerns regarding climate change and hinder the sustainable development goals.

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