Environmental regulation: A major rollback
President Trump is proposing “stark changes to the nation’s oldest and most established environmental law,” said Lisa Friedman in The New York Times. In an escalation of his three-year effort “to roll back clean air and water protections,” the president plans to revise the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to narrow the range of infrastructure projects that require an environmental impact statement for approval. Such assessments offer federal regulators detailed analyses of the environmental consequences of building a given bridge, pipeline, highway, or power plant in deciding whether to give it a thumbs-up. The revision would also “set hard deadlines of one year to complete reviews of smaller projects and two years” for larger ones. The new regulation, which requires a 60-day comment period before going into effect, will likely be challenged in court. Trump called it a necessary step to quicken “an outrageously slow” process.
The administration’s proposed “improvements are long overdue,” said Tom Donohue and Sean McGarvey in TheHill.com. Too often, NEPA has resulted in “permitting paralysis” that left critical infrastructure projects languishing on the drawing board. The expansion of an airport runway in Taos, N.M., “was delayed more than 20 years due to NEPA reviews.” In Grand Haven, Mich., a two-lane roadway and bridge were stalled by 16 years. Very often it takes longer to get the permits for a project than to actually build it.
Yes, research has shown that the average impact statement took 4.5 years to complete between 2010 and 2017, said Yessenia Funes in Gizmodo.com. But “considering the facts” takes time and is surely preferable to greenlighting a project that could “infringe on critical wildlife habitat, harm water resources, or destroy culturally sensitive areas.” Do we want to return to the pre-regulatory era, when the heavily polluted Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire? Instead of wrecking this “key pillar of environmental protection,” Trump should fight for sufficient funds to hire “enough employees to finish reviews in a timely fashion.” Most Americans want a sensible middle ground on regulation, said Robert Samuelson in The Washington Post. The economy shouldn’t be “paralyzed” by “regulatory overkill.” But “broad support” remains for sensible regulation of the environment, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, and cars. “Free market” forces don’t always produce results in the public’s best interest.