President Donald Trump is ready to roll back a foundational Nixon-era environmental law that he says stifles infrastructure projects, but that is credited with ensuring decades of scrutiny of major projects and giving local communities a say.
Trump was in Atlanta to announce changes Wednesday to the National Environmental Policy Act’s regulations for how and when authorities must conduct environmental reviews, making it easier to build highways, pipelines, chemical plants and other projects. The 1970 law changed environmental oversight in the United States by requiring federal agencies to consider whether a project would harm the air, land, water or wildlife, and giving the public the right of review and input. The White House said the final rule will promote the rebuilding of America.
Critics call the Republican president’s efforts a cynical attempt to limit the public’s ability to examine and influence proposed projects under one of the country’s bedrock environmental protection laws.
“This may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that works to save endangered species.
Trump has made slashing government regulation a hallmark of his presidency and held it out as a way to boost jobs. Environmental groups say the regulatory rollbacks threaten public health and make it harder to curb global warming. With Congress and the administration divided over how to increase infrastructure investment, the president is relying on his deregulation push to demonstrate progress.
“The United States can’t compete and prosper if a bureaucratic system holds us back from building what we need,” Trump said when first announcing the rollback of National Environmental Policy Act rules.
Among the major changes: limiting when federal environmental reviews of projects are mandated, and capping how long federal agencies and the public have to evaluate and comment on any environmental impact of a project.
Opponents say the change will have an inordinate impact on predominantly minority communities. More than 1 million African Americans live within a half-mile of natural gas facilities and face a cancer risk above the Environmental Protection Agency’s level of concern from toxins emitted by those facilities, according to a 2017 study by the Clean Air Task Force and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
“Donald Trump is taking away the last lines of defense for front-line communities, and continues to demonstrate a total disregard for our environment and for those demanding racial and environmental justice,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Mustafa Santiago Ali, a former associate administrator in the Obama administration’s EPA environmental justice office, said Black and other minority communities “will pay with their health and ultimately with their lives” for these latest proposed rule changes.
For his announcement, Trump chose Georgia, a swing state in the general election. Trump won the Republican-leaning state by 5 percentage points in 2016, but some polls show him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee. This will be Trump’s ninth trip to Georgia and his sixth visit to Atlanta during his presidency.
The president’s trip also comes as the state has seen coronavirus cases surge and now has tallied more than 12,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 deaths.
Jon Ossoff, a Democrat who is running against incumbent Republican Sen. David Perdue, said Trump’s decision to come to Georgia to discuss infrastructure as the state’s coronavirus crisis worsens demonstrates that the president is “in denial and out of control.”
“Coming here for a routine photo-op is, frankly, bizarre, surreal against this unprecedented health and economic crisis,” Ossoff said.
Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said that if Ossoff views a major policy announcement to expedite critical infrastructure projects as anything other than about job growth and economic expansion, then it might explain why he lost a congressional race in 2017.
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In This Story: Donald Trump
Donald John Trump is the 45th and current president of the United States. Before entering politics, he was a businessman and television personality. Trump was born and raised in Queens, a borough of New York City, and received a bachelor’s degree in economics from the Wharton School.