Trump’s new NEPA is faster and narrower

Land agencies have less time — and get less public scrutiny — to issue environmental assessments.


Getchell Mine in Humboldt County, Nevada, has been a gold mine since the 1930s, before environmental assessments were required by National Environmental Policy Act.

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In January, President Donald Trump announced plans to overhaul the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA — the Nixon-era law that safeguards air, water and land by requiring federal agencies to conduct detailed environmental assessments of major projects. NEPA has delayed infrastructure projects and hampered economic growth, Trump said. “It takes many, many years to get something built. The builders are not happy. Nobody is happy.” (“Trump targets a bedrock environmental law,” March 1, 2020.)

Amid the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, in late July the administration finalized a “top-to-bottom overhaul” of NEPA designed to fast-track infrastructure. The change means a faster review — a two-year deadline for agencies to submit environmental impact statements — and a narrower comment process that limits public involvement. Already, 17 environmental groups have sued. “(NEPA) is a tool of democracy, a tool for the people,” said Kym Hunter, a senior attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents the groups in the suit. “We’re not going to stand idly by while the Trump administration eviscerates it.”

Paige Blankenbuehler is an associate editor for High Country News. She oversees coverage of the Southwest, Great Basin and the Borderlands from her home in Durango, Colorado. Email her at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor

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