US President Donald Trump announced changes to historic environmental law in a controversial move to allow projects to go ahead with less oversight.
Trump described the changes to the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) as a “historic breakthrough”.
He said they would speed up reviews of major infrastructure projects.
But critics say the changes are tantamount to dismantling the 50-year-old law and are a gift to polluters.
Signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970, NEPA is considered the foundation of environmental guarantees in the United States.
By law, federal agencies must be transparent and consult the public before embarking on infrastructure projects that may have an impact on the environment.
But under the changes unveiled by President Trump, the window of time for the review process will be shortened. This will speed up approval of projects such as mines, roads, pipelines and power plants.
“This is a historic breakthrough that means better roads and highways,” said Trump, announcing changes to a hub for the delivery company UPS in Atlanta, Georgia.
“We are recovering the proud American heritage as a nation that makes a difference. ”
The choice of Mr. Trump’s meeting place was symbolic, as the changes will accelerate the expansion of I-75, an important route for truckers in Georgia.
What else do we know about regulatory changes?
Speaking in Atlanta, Trump said his administration “completely modernizes the environmental review process” for infrastructure projects.
Trump, a real estate mogul before he became president, said he had been personally frustrated with the “ridiculous process” which was “the biggest obstacle to infrastructure projects”.
As part of the changes to NEPA, the review time will be cut “to two years or less,” said Trump.
“What we do, the two years will not be the exception, it will be the rule. This will cut highway approval times by 70%, “said Mr. Trump.
Prior to the announcement, a White House official told the US media: “The new regulations will modernize, simplify and expedite the environmental review process required to build a wide range of projects in the United States, including roads, bridges and highways. “
What are environmental groups saying?
Environmentalists condemned the changes as a cynical attempt to avoid scrutiny and bypass the communities most affected by pipelines and other projects.
The Center for Biological Diversity, an advocacy group, said the move “will weaken guarantees for air, water, wildlife and public land.”
“This may be the biggest gift to polluters in the past 40 years,” said Brett Hartl, director of government affairs for the group.
Greenpeace USA has accused the Trump administration of “a blatant attempt to silence working-class communities of color” who “resisted the expansion of the fossil fuel infrastructure.”
What is President Trump’s record on environmental protection?
The changes announced on Wednesday are part of a much larger environmental retreat led by the president, who has appealed for electoral support from the besieged mining and farming communities of the United States.
Since taking office in 2016, Trump has cut regulations on oil and gas development, lowered fuel emission standards for automobiles, and proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act – a law recognized to prevent the extinction of hundreds of species.
So far, the administration has overturned more than 100 environmental rules, according to an analysis by the New York Times.
In January of this year, while announcing other changes to environmental policy, Trump criticized existing “job-destroying regulations”, while insisting that the United States would maintain “standards” world-class environmental protection ”.
“We have the purest air and cleanest water in the world,” said Trump.
The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world. A report found that carbon dioxide emissions increased 3.4% in 2018 – the largest increase in eight years – after three years of decline.