Academics Worry That Trump Might Fail To Update Old Environmental Protections

When the person in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is a climate change denier, you know we’re in trouble. That couldn’t be more clear regarding the Trump Administration’s view of the old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a Nixon-era law passed with bipartisan support in 1970. NEPA is actually one of the most copied and pasted laws on the books when we look to other countries who have tried to follow our lead.

But the Trump administration wants to change exactly how it works. 

Andrew Wheeler, the guy in charge of this new counter-intuitive EPA, said that NEPA is the “Frankenstein of a regulatory regime.” He even called it a “welfare project.”

What it comes down to is this: changing the way NEPA works would remove a lot of power the public has. NEPA has a lasting legacy. You may have noticed a lot of before and after photos popping up on social media lately. They convey the message that changing or even gutting our longest-lasting environmental protections is a mistake by showing exactly what the world looked like before they were enacted. 

Remember cities clouded by a dense sea of smog? We might soon have that to look forward to once again.

The proposed changes would accomplish a few different things, supposedly on behalf of businesses who the old NEPA regulations hurt. At the top of the list is limiting environmental impact evaluation for infrastructure-related projects like building or maintaining highways and bridges, and setting down new oil pipelines (as if we need them). 

Trump said, “In the past, many of America’s most critical infrastructure projects have been tied up and bogged down by an outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process. These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground, and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers.”

But they do a lot more than that. Those regulations save us money that we’ll have to spend down the road when the environment continues to break down as we bulldoze and build over wetlands and old growth areas. 

Most importantly — but not too surprisingly — the new changes would exclude any considerations about the effects of man-made climate change. 

But that’s not the way White House allies are pitching it to the public. American Exploration and Production Council CEO Anne Bradbury described the effort in another way: “The Administration’s modernization of NEPA removes bureaucratic barriers that were stifling construction of key infrastructure projects needed for U.S. producers to deliver energy in a safe and environmentally protective way.”

The problem is, pipelines have never been very good for the environment. Plus, the energy it takes to build new platforms for coal and oil is now more expensive than to build those for renewables. Why are we bothering? It might have something to do with the fact that Trump owes those companies his presidency. They might just get him a second term.