'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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This week marks the official start of fall, but longer nights and colder days can make it harder to spend time outdoors. Luckily, there are several inspiring environmental films that can be streamed at home.
1. Kiss the Ground<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ccc5f0c92a5603e68aec39e56b0db02a"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/K3-V1j-zMZw?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 22</strong></p><p>Between <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/wildfires-california-washington-oregon-photos-2647585008.html" target="_self">wildfires devastating the U.S. West Coast</a> and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tropical-storm-beta-landfall-2647760268.html" target="_self">storms battering the Gulf</a>, the impacts of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/climate-change/" target="_self">climate crisis</a> can feel overwhelming right now. <em><a href="https://kissthegroundmovie.com/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Kiss the Ground</a> </em>offers an alternative to all of the bad news by focusing on solutions.</p><p>The film, directed by Josh and Rebecca Tickell and narrated by Woody Harrelson, explains how we can heal the Earth through "regenerative agriculture," farming practices that draw carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and into soil as a way to restore soil health, which in turn boosts ecosystems and food supplies.</p><p>"<em>Kiss the Ground </em>shows how feasible it is to make these changes at a grassroots level immediately and make a truly substantive impact with low cost and easy to implement solutions," Executive Producer RJ Jain said in an email. "This is why I got involved."</p>
2. Public Trust: The Fight for America's Public Lands<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5338f7a2931e356910026e5fd76fac56"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jsKMTAaj_wQ?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: YouTube</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Sept. 25, 2 p.m. EDT </strong></p><p>This <a href="https://www.patagonia.com/films/public-trust/" target="_blank">award-winning documentary</a> tells the stories of Indigenous activists, journalists, whistleblowers and historians working to protect America's <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/public-lands" target="_self">public lands</a>. The film focuses on three political struggles: the shrinking of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/bears-ears" target="_self">Bears Ears</a> National Monument in Utah, the mining of Boundary Waters Wilderness in Minnesota and the opening of the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/Arctic-National-Wildlife-Refuge" target="_self">Arctic National Wildlife Refuge</a> to fossil fuel exploration.</p><p><em>Public Trust</em> was directed by David Garrett Byars and produced by Jeremy Rubingh. Patagonia Films, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard and actor Robert Redford are executive producers. It will be <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGjnIG7puzY" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">released</a> on YouTube in time for <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/national-public-lands-day-2640656776.html" target="_self">National Public Lands Day</a>.</p><p>"Our country is fortunate to have millions of acres of public lands, including National Parks, Monuments, Wildlife Refuges and Wilderness set aside for future generations," Redford said. "Sadly, these lands that belong to you and me are under unprecedented threats from the greed of big corporations, eager to weaken restrictions in the pursuit of profits. Many of our current politicians are also to blame. <em>Public Trust</em> tells the story of citizens who are fighting back. It's a much-needed wake-up call for all of us who want to preserve our unique and wild cultural heritage."</p>
3. David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="156438a30836a765d7a92982545fc334"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/B_OFZvAd05Y?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><strong>Streaming On: Netflix</strong></p><p><strong>Premiere Date: Oct. 4</strong></p><p>Beloved nature broadcaster <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/David-Attenborough" target="_self">David Attenborough</a> has spent his career introducing viewers to the wonders of our planet. In recent years, his footage of albatrosses swallowing <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastics" target="_self">plastic</a> in <em>Blue Planet II</em> has been credited with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/2018-fighting-plastic-waste-2624606566.html" target="_self">helping to ramp up</a> the global fight against plastic pollution. Now, in this <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">World Wildlife Fund</a> (WWF)-produced <a href="https://www.attenborough.film/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">documentary</a>, he reflects on the defining moments of his career and the devastating changes he has witnessed.</p><p><em>David Attenborough: A Life on Our Planet,</em> which was also produced by Silverback Films and directed by Alastair Fothergill, Jonnie Hughes and Keith Scholey, features an intimate conversation between Attenborough and Sir Michael Palin as the broadcaster reflects on his life and a career that took him to every continent on Earth. In addition to streaming on Netflix, the movie will be available in select theaters starting Sept. 28.</p><p>"For decades, David has brought the natural world to the homes of audiences worldwide, but there has never been a more significant moment for him to share his own story and reflections," WWF executive producer Colin Butfield said in a <a href="https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/david-attenborough-life-our-planet" target="_blank">statement</a>. "This film coincides with a monumental year for environmental action as world leaders make critical decisions on nature and climate. It sends a powerful message from the most inspiring and celebrated naturalist of our time."</p>
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If all the glaciers and ice caps on the planet melted, global sea level would rise by about 230 feet. That amount of water would flood nearly every coastal city around the world [source: U.S. Geological Survey]. Rising temperatures, melting arctic ice, drought, desertification and other catastrophic effects of climate change are not examples of future troubles — they are reality today. Climate change isn't just about the environment; its effects touch every part of our lives, from the stability of our governments and economies to our health and where we live.
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