'No Other President Has Had the Gall': Environmental Groups Balk as Trump Proposes Major Rollback of Infrastructure Review Process
President Donald Trump proposed one of his most aggressive environmental rollbacks yet on Thursday, announcing a change that would exempt federal agencies from considering the climate impacts of pipelines and other infrastructure projects.
The president's proposal would significantly limit enforcement of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates that federal agencies consider how proposed construction projects like pipelines, highways and dams would impact land, air, water and wildlife, The Associated Press explained. NEPA also gives the public a say in the review process. The law was signed by Richard Nixon in 1971 following national outrage over the 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara, California. Along with the Clean Air and Water Acts, it is one of the bedrock environmental laws of the last half century.
"No other president has had the gall to try to back polluters and turn back the clock to pre-Santa Barbara," Rice University presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The New York Times. "Nothing compares to what Donald Trump is doing."
Trump, who announced the proposed changes Thursday at the White House surrounded by men in hard hats and safety vests, argued that the law as currently enforced delays important projects with needless bureaucracy.
"America's most critical infrastructure projects have been tied up and bogged down by an outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process,″ he said, according to The Associated Press. "The builders are not happy. Nobody's happy.″
However, conservation groups warn the changes will benefit fossil fuel companies and other polluting industries at the expense of the environment, the climate and the communities most at risk from the fallout.
"The implications for access to clean air and clean water and for public input, especially among the low-income communities and communities of color most impacted by climate change and toxic pollution, could be dire," League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski told USA Today.
So what exactly is Trump proposing to change?
1. Faster Reviews
The new regulations would set deadlines for how long a review of a project can take: one year for smaller projects and two years for larger ones, The New York Times explained.
White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Mary Neumayr told NPR that the average environmental impact statement currently takes four and a half years to complete, and the average for highways takes seven years, a delay that "deprives Americans of the benefits of modernized bridges and roads that enable them to get home to their families," she said. But environmental groups argue that two years is too tight for a thorough review.
2. Cumulative Impacts
The regulations get rid of the requirement that agencies consider the cumulative impact of new projects. This is the requirement courts have pointed to in mandating that agency reviews include an assessment of how a project will contribute to the climate crisis, The New York Times explained. Neumayr said the new rules would not prevent agencies from considering the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, but they also would not require them to do so. Under the new regulations, NPR explained, agencies would have to consider the impacts of building a pipeline, but not the impacts of the oil or gas it would transport.
"Ignoring the future impact of climate change as part of the nation's core environmental review law will only increase costs of development and future disaster recovery on taxpayers and communities, while making us all more vulnerable to its already apparent effects,″ the American Planning Association and the Association of State Floodplain Managers said in a statement reported by The Associated Press.
3. Less Government Oversight
The new regulations would also decrease the number of projects subject to review altogether, NPR reported. "Non-federal" projects receiving limited government money would be exempt, for example. The changes would also let private companies conduct their own reviews.
"This is a clearly a conflict of interest," Center for American Progress Senior Vice President Christy Goldfuss told NPR. "It's baffling that the Trump administration thinks handing the keys of environmental review to big polluters is going to pass muster."
Indeed, legal experts agree it may not. The Trump administration has attempted almost 100 environmental rollbacks since taking office, according to The New York Times. But it has also been sued almost 70 times to stop attempts at deregulation and only won four times.
Legal scholars agree there is a good chance Trump's changes to how NEPA is applied won't stand up in court.
"The law require federal agencies to report the environmental impacts of their actions that significantly affect 'the quality of the human environment,'" Bruce Huber of Notre Dame Law School told NPR. "If the regulations announced today drive agencies to diminish the extent or quality of their reporting, federal courts may very well conclude that their reports do not comply with the law."
The proposed changes will be published on the federal register Friday and will be followed by a 60-day public comment period, according to The New York Times. There will also be two public hearings before the final changes are enshrined, probably in the fall.
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It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.
Where Does the Deficiency Begin?<p>Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. The question of when a deficiency starts is correspondingly controversial. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular.Not only is the pseudo-scientific literature on the "sun vitamin" experiencing an upswing, but the number of published studies has also increased enormously in recent years. For example, in 2019 <a href="https://academic.oup.com/edrv/article/40/4/1109/5126915" target="_blank">a study found that</a> Vitamin D is responsible for keeping the skeleton functional and is associated with cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and various types of cancer. <br></p>
An All-Rounder<p>Vitamin D levels in the body rise and fall according to sun exposure. If sufficient UV rays reach the skin, the body is able to produce the vitamin itself. However, the human body only derives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of its daily requirement from food.</p><p>The vitamin D that we synthesize from sunlight or food is not biologically active at first. Before the kidneys can produce the biologically active form of the vitamin, known as calcitriol, and release it into the blood, some metabolic processes must take place beforehand.</p><p>In addition, many organs have receptors to which the precursor of calcitriol binds. Further, this substance is also present in blood.</p><p>From this precursor, the organs then produce calcitriol themselves, which the body then uses for countless other processes in the body. This form of vitamin D thus regulates insulin secretion, inhibits tumor growth, and promotes the formation of red blood cells as well as the survival and activity of macrophages, which are important for the <a href="https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/5/7/2502/htm" target="_blank">immune system.</a></p>
Low Vitamin D, Severe COVID-19 Disease?<p>A research study carried out <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2352364620300067?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">at the University of Hohenheim</a> has now established a link between vitamin D deficiency, certain previous diseases, and severe cases of COVID-19.</p><p>According to the study, "there is a lot of evidence that several non-communicable diseases (high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome) are associated with low vitamin D plasma levels. These comorbidities, together with the often accompanying vitamin D deficiency, increase the risk of severe COVID-19 events."</p><p>"This statement is completely correct," said Martin Fassnacht, head of endocrinology at the University Hospital of Würzburg. However, he qualifies that it is a pure association, "i.e. a mere observation that these events occur together.</p><p>Dr. Fassnacht is very critical of the hype surrounding vitamin D, but not because he denies the vitamin serves important functions. However, studies on humans have not been able to show that vitamin D has the healing powers many often propagate.</p><p>Fassnacht says, "If you take a closer look, the hopes that the administration of vitamin D has a healing effect have not been confirmed so far."</p>
Association Versus Intervention Studies<p>Many studies on the vitamin are association or observational studies. "By definition, these studies cannot prove the causal relationship, but only point to mere correlations," said Fassnacht. The physician tries to illustrate this with an example:</p><p>"Imagine two groups of 80-year-olds. One group is spry, active and does sports. If you compare them with another group living in nursing homes, the difference in vitamin D levels will be dramatic. Life expectancy would also be extremely different."</p><p>But to try to explain the difference in fitness by vitamin D status alone is far too simplistic. "Vitamin D levels are a good measure of how sick someone is. But not more," says Fassnacht. </p><p>According to Fassnacht, none of the intervention studies carried out to date -- that specifically examined the effect of vitamin D on various diseases -- has been able to confirm the previous association and laboratory studies or the presumed positive effect of vitamin D.</p>
Further Research Is Needed<p>"If a coronavirus infection is suspected, it is therefore absolutely necessary to check the vitamin D status and quickly correct any possible deficit," said the recommendation of the paper published by the University of Hohenheim.</p><p>"Studies are underway to see whether vitamin D helps in COVID-19 infection, but I personally do not believe that this is really the case," says endocrinologist Fassnacht. Nevertheless, he says it is of course useful to carry out these studies.<br></p><p>"I don't want to rule out that there are actually subgroups of people who benefit from an additional vitamin D dose," he says. After all, this has been proven to be the case with a severe deficit.</p><p>In view of the study situation, Fassnacht does not think much of preventive, nationwide vitamin D substitutes. "My belief that the vitamin helps somewhere is very low. But, of course, I can be wrong."</p>
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