President Donald Trump will sign an executive order Thursday directing federal agencies to use their emergency authorities to accelerate energy, highway and other infrastructure projects, a move that the administration says will help jump-start an economy ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, HuffPost has confirmed.
The order will “expedite construction of highways and other projects designed for environmental, energy, transportation, natural resource, and other uses” and further the administration’s efforts “to reform burdensome and outdated bureaucratic processes that prevent projects from moving forward,” a senior administration official said in an email. It also instructs the departments of Interior, Agriculture and Defense to speed up energy and other projects on federal lands.
Agencies will have the authority to waive environmental reviews normally required under the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, according to The Washington Post, which broke the story Thursday.
Also on Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a new rule to overhaul how cost-benefit analyses factor into Clean Air Act regulations, ultimately limiting the agency’s ability to put in place stricter rules to safeguard clean air and fight climate change. While EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement that the rule will “improve the transparency,” the Union of Concerned Scientists called it “a backdoor way to justify rollbacks of public health and environmental protections.”
The two actions further the administration’s pro-industry agenda, which has targeted numerous environmental regulations in order to boost fossil fuel production and other development.
Last year, the Interior Department finalized a rollback of the Endangered Species Act, one of America’s most important laws for protecting imperiled animals and plants, making it easier to remove recovered species from the protected list and paving the way for more drilling and mining.
And in January, the administration unveiled a proposed overhaul of the National Environmental Policy Act, a 50-year-old law that protects air, water and land by requiring federal agencies to conduct detailed environmental assessments of major infrastructure projects. The changes would expedite fossil fuel pipelines, highways and power plants by limiting the number of projects that require in-depth environmental assessments ― a move that environmental justice and conservation groups see as a clear attempt to cut the public out of the democratic process.
A section of the Mountain Valley Pipeline near Elliston, Virginia.
Critics blasted news of Trump’s upcoming executive order as another attack on communities of color, which are disproportionately affected by major development, including highways and fossil fuel infrastructure. The order comes as Americans across the nation take to the streets to condemn racism, injustice and police brutality.
“Today President Trump is dealing another blow to the Black community, during a worldwide pandemic and nearly a week into nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and structural racism,” House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said in a statement. “Gutting NEPA takes away one of the few tools communities of color have to protect themselves and make their voices heard on federal decisions impacting them.”
The Trump administration has continued to push its pro-polluter agenda throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which has already killed more than 107,000 Americans and infected more than 1.8 million. That includes the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to suspend enforcement of bedrock clean air and water laws.
This week, five Republican senators sent the White House a letter urging the administration to “sunset” all federal regulations that have been waived during the COVID-19 pandemic, requiring that those regulations go back to the beginning of the rule-making process. “The burden that many of these regulations create for everyday Americans is now abundantly clear,” the lawmakers said.
Christy Goldfuss, a former chair of the environmental council under President Barack Obama and current senior vice president for energy and environment policy at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said Thursday that Trump’s order “will only serve to further silence” communities of color.
“They’re trying to divert attention away from the crisis of racial injustice happening around the country, by giving agency leads the excuse to ram through polluting projects that will prop up the dying fossil fuel industry while destroying the very same communities that are dying at higher rates from COVID-19 and police violence, as well,” she said in an emailed statement.
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