Proposed rollbacks to a national environmental law known as NEPA would restrict the public's ability to speak out against large infrastructure projects such as oil pipelines. (Adobe Stock)

Environmental Law Overhaul Could be Dire for Places that Need It Most

By: Diane Bernard, Public News Service

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – Critics are pushing back on a new Trump administration plan to roll back a bedrock environmental law that requires a careful review of large projects, contending that the change could be disastrous for impoverished and minority communities.

Kym Hunter, senior attorney with the planned revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act mean developers would not have to disclose the cumulative impact of multiple projects, such as oil pipelines or highways, that already exist in a neighborhood.

“This would include things like climate change or oil spills,” she said, “the type of things that actually really affect low-income communities where you have lots of different projects which, together, add up to something that can be really, really harmful.”

The administration has said the proposed changes are designed to streamline and speed up the development of projects that help the public.

Hunter disagreed, saying the changes would weaken the law and restrict what used to be an open process. For instance, if the public wants to comment on a proposed project, the NEPA revisions would require those comments to be technical in nature, and cite official documents – making it tougher for average citizens to comment.

Hunter said vulnerable communities also could face expensive fees when asking for an injunction to stop a project.

“It is absolutely gutting NEPA, but it’s also putting in new requirements, so I’m not even sure it’s going to fulfill the purpose of speeding anything up,” she said. “I think it’s probably going to cause a lot of chaos, while also disenfranchising communities.”

She said many studies have confirmed that low-income areas and communities of color in the United States see environmental harm on a daily basis, including disproportionate exposure to chemicals and proximity to hazardous-waste sites.

Information on the NEPA change is online at whitehouse.gov.


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