Dems fume after Trump signs order removing environmental review of major projects

The Hill reports President Trump signed an executive order Thursday evening that would waive requirements under a suite of environmental laws, a move the administration says will boost the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The new order expedites the permitting of construction projects and energy projects overseen by several federal agencies, using emergency authorities to skirt environmental regulations with little public notice.

“From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays,” Trump wrote in the order. “The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.”

The order would slash the requirements in a number of landmark environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires rigorous environmental review before building new infrastructure like highways or pipelines.

Thursday’s order sparked backlash from environmental justice advocates, who slammed both the substance of the order and its timing, which comes amid nationwide protests over police brutality.

“This administration is removing phantom barriers that are at their essence protections for the very communities that are struggling most from the health impacts of air and water pollution,” Christy Goldfuss, who headed the White House Council on Environmental Quality under the Obama administration and now works at the Center for American Progress, said in a statement.

“They’re trying to divert attention away from the crisis of racial injustice happening around the country, by giving agency leads the excuse to ram through polluting projects that will prop up the dying fossil fuel industry while destroying the very same communities that are dying at higher rates from COVID-19 and police violence, as well,” she added.

Trump’s order comes on the heels of one signed last month that directs agency heads to “identify regulatory standards that may inhibit economic recovery,” prompting conservative groups to say the administration should further rollback NEPA.

The latest order goes further, directing agencies to use their own emergency authorities and the emergency provisions of environmental laws to skip over standard requirements.

Agencies will now have 30 days to report which projects will be expedited under the order, but there is no requirement for that list to be publicized.

The order was widely criticized by congressional Democrats.

“Let’s be clear, this executive order is not about providing immediate relief to the American people and boosting our economy. If President Trump was interested in anything other than expanding his power, there are a number of things he and his Administration could do to help our country combat this deadly epidemic and spur economic growth,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

“Once again, President Trump is using the pretense of a deadly pandemic and its ensuing economic calamity to accelerate his Administration’s agenda.”