A TransCanada Keystone Pipeline pump station operates outside Steele City, Nebraska March 10, 2014.. Could new Trump rule remove court obstacles to project? (Lane Hickenbottom/Reuters)
A Trump Administration rule will left the requirement for federal agencies to consider climate change in plans for highways, pipelines, and other major infrastructure projects.
The changes to the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act will reduce obstacles to controversial fossil fuel projects, such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which have been held up by courts.
The new rule tries to circumvent judicial rulings that the Administration did not properly consider the “cumulative” consequences of climate change when evaluating the environmental effects of projects.
The administration is planning to narrow the range of projects that require environmental review, pushing them through the approval process without having to disclose plans over discharge waste, cutting of trees, and an increase in air pollution.
The new rule would no longer require agencies to consider the “cumulative” consequences of new infrastructure. In recent years courts have interpreted that requirement as a mandate to study the effects of allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. It also has meant understanding the impacts of rising sea levels and other results of climate change on a given project.
The National Environmental Policy Act has been modified only once: in 1983, when the White House Council on Environmental Quality limited the use of worst-case scenarios in project reviews.
The Trump Administration has systemically rolled back environmental regulation. Under Trump — a denier of man-made climate change — and former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, it has:
*Gutted Obama-era measures over waterways and vehicle emissions, and derided a plan to limit scientific data for health regulations
*Planned to repeal an Obama-era regulation to limit the release of arsenic, lead, and mercury from coal plants into water supplies
*Removed restrictions on fossil fuel pollution, including emissions of methane
*Repealed Obama-era limits on polluting chemicals used near water
*Withdrawn rules over asbestos and pesticides
*Weakened the Endangered Species Act
*Curbed any mention of climate change by Government agencies and scientists.
The latest proposals appear to be an election gambit for the support of construction firms, who have complained that the National Environmental Policy Act has tied up energy and transit projects.
Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, warned that removing the need to consider climate change will lead to more projecting worsen global emissions.
He also said there could be greater risk in roads, bridges and other infrastructure because developers will not be required to analyze if a rise in sea levels could eventually submerge a project.
“[This] has the potential to distort infrastructure planning by making it easier to ignore predictable futures that could severely degrade the projects,” Gerrard explained.
Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, echoed, “You’re assuming away massive amounts of harm and you’re not even going to discuss it.”
But Michael Bridges of a construction trades council in Washington State welcomed the change to get around court action: “We had everything from singing grandmas to people dressed up as endangered species coming in [to the hearings].”