[Marxism] Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jan 4 10:05:43 MST 2020


NY Times, Jan. 4, 2020
Trump Rule Would Exclude Climate Change in Infrastructure Planning
By Lisa Friedman

WASHINGTON — Federal agencies would no longer have to take climate 
change into account when they assess the environmental impacts of 
highways, pipelines and other major infrastructure projects, according 
to a Trump administration plan that would weaken the nation’s benchmark 
environmental law.

The proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy 
Act could sharply reduce obstacles to the Keystone XL oil pipeline and 
other fossil fuel projects that have been stymied when courts ruled that 
the Trump administration did not properly consider climate change when 
analyzing the environmental effects of the projects.

According to one government official who has seen the proposed 
regulation but was not authorized to speak about it publicly, the 
administration will also narrow the range of projects that require 
environmental review. That could make it likely that more projects will 
sail through the approval process without having to disclose plans to do 
things like discharge waste, cut trees or increase air pollution.

The new rule would no longer require agencies to consider the 
“cumulative” consequences of new infrastructure. In recent years courts 
have interpreted that requirement as a mandate to study the effects of 
allowing more planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions into the 
atmosphere. It also has meant understanding the impacts of rising sea 
levels and other results of climate change on a given project.

The act requires the federal government to prepare detailed analyses of 
projects that could have significant environmental effects, including 
long-term impacts that courts have said include climate change. Since 
1970, when the law was enacted, it has undergone only one major change. 
That was in 1983, when the White House Council on Environmental Quality 
limited the use of worst-case scenarios in project reviews.

But the Trump administration has been aggressive in its efforts to roll 
back environmental regulations. The 50 or so pages of revisions that the 
Council on Environmental Quality is expected to make public on Wednesday 
would not amend the act itself. Rather, they would revise the rules that 
guide the implementation of the law.

Once the proposed rules are filed in the federal register, the public 
will have 60 days to comment on them, the official said. A final 
regulation is expected before the presidential election in November.

Dan Schneider, spokesman for the Council on Environmental Quality, said 
in a statement that the environmental law was overdue for an update. 
“The Trump administration is focused on improving the environmental 
review and permitting process while ensuring a safe, healthy, and 
productive environment for all Americans,” he said.

President Trump’s latest effort to eliminate regulations on industry 
appears also to be a play to win over construction trade unions that 
have long complained that the National Environmental Policy Act has tied 
up energy and transit projects that create jobs.

“The environmental review process designed to improve decision-making 
has become increasingly complex and difficult to navigate,” Mr. Trump 
said in a presidential message on New Year’s Day to mark the 50th 
anniversary of the act.

He criticized the “significant uncertainty and delays that can increase 
costs, derail important projects, and threaten jobs for American workers 
and labor union members” and said revisions would “benefit our economy 
and environment.”

Environmental activists and legal experts said the proposed changes 
would weaken critical safeguards for air, water and wildlife. The move, 
if it survives the expected court challenges, also could eliminate a 
powerful tool that climate change activists have used to stop or slow 
Mr. Trump’s encouragement of coal and oil development as part of its 
“energy dominance” policy.

In March, a federal judge found that the Obama administration did not 
adequately take into account the climate change impact of leasing public 
land for oil gas drilling in Wyoming, a ruling that also presented a 
threat to Mr. Trump’s plans for fossil fuel development.

One month later, another federal judge dealt a blow to Mr. Trump’s plan 
to lift an Obama-era moratorium on coal mining on public lands when he 
found the administration did not adequately study the environmental 
effects of mining as required by law.

And in 2018, a federal court cited the environmental policy act when it 
halted construction on the Keystone pipeline, a project President Trump 
has been determined to see become a reality. The court said the Trump 
administration had failed to justify reversing the Obama 
administration’s ruling that the pipeline would unduly worsen climate 
change. The case is still under litigation.

The Trump administration “simply discarded prior factual findings 
related to climate change to support its course reversal,” Judge Brian 
Morris of the United States District Court for Montana wrote at the time.

Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia University’s Sabin Center for 
Climate Change Law, said eliminating the need to consider climate change 
would lead to more pipelines and other projects that worsen global 
emissions. It could also put roads, bridges and other infrastructure at 
greater risk, he said, because developers would not be required, for 
instance, to analyze whether sea-level rise threatened to eventually 
submerge a project.

“It has the potential to distort infrastructure planning by making it 
easier to ignore predictable futures that could severely degrade the 
projects,” Mr. Gerrard said.

With the proposed changes, said Brett Hartl, government affairs director 
for the Center for Biological Diversity, “You’re assuming away massive 
amounts of harm and you’re not even going to discuss it.”

But Michael Bridges, president of the Longview-Kelso Building and 
Construction Trades Council in Washington State, said he was eager to 
see the law revised. He said groups opposed to fossil fuels were using 
the environmental policy act to tie up a major coal export terminal in 
the state.

“We had everything from singing grandmas to people dressed up as 
endangered species coming in,” Mr. Bridges said of public hearings on 
the terminal.

A state analysis concluded that the terminal would allow 22 million more 
tons of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere over its projected 
20-year life span. Mr. Bridges said he wanted strong environmental laws, 
but ones that take the local economy into consideration. The coal 
terminal, he noted, would replace an old aluminum smelter that shuttered 
in 2001, eliminating about 1,500 jobs.

“That was a big hit for us,” he said. “I’m living in these communities, 
I’m building these projects, and we want them to be safe. The reason 
this is effective for environmental groups is that they’re able to keep 
timing it out until the businesses run out of money to fight it or it 
doesn’t make sense anymore.”

While Mr. Trump may not be known for deep involvement in policy matters, 
one administration official said the president, as a former real estate 
developer, was familiar with the National Environmental Policy Act and 
has expressed keen interest in the law’s revisions. In one of his 
earliest environmental announcements, Mr. Trump signed an executive 
order to speed permitting for infrastructure, complaining that building 
a highway can take up to 17 years because of what he called burdensome 
regulations.

Mr. Gerrard said the environmental review requirements of New York’s 
state-level version of the environmental policy act had helped to defeat 
a golf course that Mr. Trump hoped to build in Mount Kisco, N.Y. The 
Seven Springs golf course would have abutted Byram Lake, a reservoir for 
drinking water. Mr. Gerrard, who represented opponents of the project, 
said environmental reviews enabled the community to show that the 
drinking water supply could have been endangered. Mr. Trump shelved the 
project in 2004, but his public comments indicate the episode still rankles.

In a speech to the National Association of Realtors in May, Mr. Trump 
told an appreciative crowd: “I was building a development. I was going 
to build some really luxury, beautiful houses.” But, he said: “I found 
out that I can’t build on the land. Does that make sense to you?”




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