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This new plan by White House sidesteps climate concerns, speeds up big project permits

Under the new plan, the administration can only assess the environmental impacts of a project directly linked to it, and not on the larger climate implications of the project

Written by Abhimanyu Chakravorty | New Delhi | Updated: January 9, 2020 8:15:59 pm
US President Donald Trump

In what could be a major blow to the global discourse on climate change action, the Donald Trump administration Thursday went ahead and unveiled a new plan that aims to boost clearances needed for big infrastructure projects, by sidestepping considerations of their perceived impact on the environment.

What it means is this: under the new plan, the administration can only assess the environmental impacts of a project directly linked to it, and not on the larger climate implications of the project, a raging issue environmental campaigners have been rooting for.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released the plan that would potentially help the Trump administration to speed up massive energy projects that had been in limbo over concerns about their impact on global warming.

As per the United States’ National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) guidelines, communities can challenge federal decisions such as oil pipelines, bridges and highways. This also requires federal regulators to critically analyse the impacts of a project on the environment. If enacted, the proposal will be the first major change in nearly four decades of the NEPA, which is the fundamental environment regulation. This is Trump administration’s larger goal to provide fillip to industries by cutting red tape.

A CEQ fact sheet, which was seen by Reuters, stated: “The proposed rule seeks to reduce unnecessary paperwork and delays, and to promote better decision-making consistent with NEPA’s statutory requirements.”

The proposed rule states that the climate impact of a particular project need not be taken into consideration. What it implies is this: It will then become easier for fossil fuel projects to easily course through the approval processm bypassing legal challenges.

Federal courts, over the last few years, have ruled that NEPA requires the federal government to take into account a project’s carbon footprint while making decisions related to leasing out public lands for drilling or building pipelines. According to the proposed change, the scope of projects will also be widened, which can be excluded from the NEPA.

As per the plan, if a certain type of project had already received a ‘catergorical exclusion’ from one agency in the past, it could in the future be automatically be excluded from review by other agencies, reported Reuters.

Interestingly, as per the rule, if a project requires a lengthy and detailed environmental impact assessment, the review period would be limited to two years and the length of the report.

Before becoming president, Donald Trump, who is a real estate tycoon, used to regularly complain about the lengthy permit process of the NEPA.

(With inputs from Reuters)

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