Trump looks to scale back environmental reviews for projects

WASHINGTON (AP) – United States (US) President Donald Trump is expected to announce a new federal rule to speed up the environmental review process for proposed highways, gas pipelines and other major infrastructure, a move that critics are describing as the dismantling of a 50-year-old environmental protection law.

Trump travelled to Atlanta yesterday to announce the federal rule as he seeks to make it easier to meet some of the country’s infrastructure needs. When he first announced the effort in January, the administration set a two-year deadline for completing full environmental impact reviews while less comprehensive assessments would have to be completed within one year. The White House said the final rule will promote the rebuilding of America.

Critics call the president’s efforts a cynical attempt to limit the public’s ability to review, comment and influence proposed projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, one of the country’s bedrock environmental protection laws.

“This may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group that works to save endangered species.

Trump has made slashing government regulation a hallmark of his presidency and held it out as a way to boost jobs. But environmental groups said the regulatory rollbacks threaten public health and make it harder to curb global warming. With Congress and the administration divided over how to boost infrastructure investment, the president is relying on his deregulation push to demonstrate progress.

US President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington. PHOTO: AP

“The US can’t compete and prosper if a bureaucratic system holds us back from building what we need,” Trump said when first announcing the sweeping rollback of National Environmental Policy Act rules.

Georgia is emerging as a key swing state in the general election. Trump won the Republican-leaning state by five percentage points in 2016, but some polls show him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee. This will be Trump’s ninth trip to Georgia and his sixth visit to Atlanta during his presidency.

The president’s trip also comes as the state has seen coronavirus cases surge and now has tallied more than 12,000 confirmed cases and more than 3,000 deaths.

Jon Ossoff, a Democrat who is running against incumbent Republican Sen David Perdue, said Trump’s decision to come to Georgia to discuss infrastructure as the state’s coronavirus crisis worsens demonstrates that the president is “in denial and out of control.”

“Coming here for a routine photo-op is, frankly, bizarre, surreal against this unprecedented health and economic crisis,” Ossoff said. Judd Deere, a White House spokesman, said that if Ossoff views a major policy announcement to expedite critical infrastructure projects as anything other than about job growth and economic expansion, then it might explain why he lost an election two years ago.

The White House said the administration’s efforts will expedite the expansion of Interstate 75 near Atlanta, an important freight route where traffic can often slow to a crawl. The state will create two interstate lanes designed solely for commercial trucks. The state announced last fall, before the White House unveiled its proposed rule, that it was moving up the deadline for substantially completing the project to 2028.