A New Trump Rule Would Fast-Track Oil Pipelines Without Consideration of Climate Change

The proposed rule will likely be released Wednesday.

A person in a polar bear suit mimes crying at a pro-Arctic wildlife rally.

Environmental groups gather at the Capitol to oppose oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in October 2017. Tom Williams/AP

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The Trump administration will soon make it easier for projects like oil pipelines and highways to get federal approval regardless of their environmental risks and effects on climate change, according to the New York Times. The administration is expected to gut the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act by making more projects exempt from the environmental reviews it requires, and by stripping requirements for federal agencies to consider “cumulative” impacts such as contributions to climate change.

By mandating risk evaluation and comment periods, NEPA has become one of the public’s strongest tools for intervening against projects that could taint drinking water, destroy habitats, or release massive amounts of carbon. Yet 95 percent of federal projects are declared exempt, a fraction that would increase if the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which regulates these reviews, moves forward with proposed revisions expected to be released Wednesday, according to the Times.

Those who complain that the law hinders economic development, such as industry groups and trade unions, have found powerful support in President Trump, who just two days ago commemorated NEPA’s 50th anniversary by saying it created “significant uncertainty and delays” that “threaten jobs for American workers.” Environmental reviews typically take four to five years; in a 2017 executive order, Trump directed agencies to complete them in two. 

The Sierra Club, the Western Environmental Law Center, and 175 other  groups signed a letter in August saying that new limitations on NEPA “would have far-reaching effects to the places we advocate for and help to steward.” Matthew Davis of the League of Conservation Voters lamented “yet another Trump administration attack” that “would shut out the public… for the benefit of corporate polluters.”

In light of Trump’s direction, the Department of Interior limited its NEPA reviews to one year and 150 pages. Its study on drilling in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge was denounced by government scientists for seriously overlooking possible harms to polar bear habitats and Indigenous communities (to say nothing of how oil extraction contributes to climate change).

The changes the CEQ is likely to announce would make it easier for agencies like the DOI to approve mining and drilling projects without considering the natural ecosystems.

During his first week in office, Trump fast-tracked approval of the Dakota Access and Keystone XL oil pipelines, despite ongoing litigation alleging the insufficiency of their environmental reviews. He later opened the floodgates for oil, gas, and mining claims on millions of acres of national monuments, while a list of his affronts on environmental protections would be longer than you currently have time for.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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