Push to scale back US environmental law draws ire at hearing

Joan Lutz, of Boulder, Colo., waves a placard to protest efforts by the Trump administration to weaken the National Environmental Policy Act during a rally Tuesday in Denver, where the administration hosted the first of two hearings on its proposal.

DENVER (AP) — The Trump administration on Tuesday hosted the first of two hearings on its proposal to speed energy and other projects by rolling back a landmark environmental law. Opponents from Western states argued for the long-term benefits of keeping the environmental reviews.

Among other changes, President Trump wants to limit public reviews of projects — a process that’s enshrined in the National Environmental Policy Act signed in 1970 by President Richard Nixon. The administration also wants to allow project sponsors to participate at an early stage of drafting federal environmental impact statements.

Dozens of environmental and tribal

activists testified at the Denver hearing

conducted by the president’s Council on Environmental Quality.

The act “is not just a tool to reduce impacts to the environment,” said Gwen Lachelt, a commissioner in Colorado’s La Plata County. “It’s a basic tool of democracy.”

Representatives of oil and gas groups countered that multiyear environmental reviews of pipelines, coal mines and renewable energy projects kill jobs, increase costs and often outlast a project’s economic feasibility.

The proposed changes chagrined Jeannie Crumly, a rancher from Nebraska who has fought construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline for more than a decade. Former President Barack Obama canceled the project, only to have it resurrected by Trump.

“We’ve learned over the 10 years in our dealings with the pipeline supporters about falsehoods,” said Crumly, sporting a “No Oil on Our Soil” button. “The possibility that they could create their own environmental impact statement is just ludicrous to us.”

Trump has proposed narrowing the scope of the environmental law that, along with the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, spells out the nation’s principal environmental protections. The law requires federal agencies to determine if a project would harm the environment or wildlife. It gives the public the right to consider and comment on projects.

Trump’s plan is backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the American Petroleum Institute, and other business and trade groups.

Among other changes, the proposal would streamline environmental assessments and would not require “analysis of cumulative effects,” which environmentalists say include a project’s potential impact on climate change.

The law “has done more than any other law in the last 50 years to protect America’s lands and wildlife and ensure public comment,” said Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities. “It’s completely on brand that the Trump administration is cutting the American public out of the process.”

Activists held a rally and other events outside the hearing at the regional headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Backers of the proposed changes call the law outdated and a deterrent to infrastructure investment. They also insist that the changes won’t eliminate environmental reviews. Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, a Republican, has released a letter signed by 17 other senators urging adoption of the new rules.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, a Democrat, issued a statement acknowledging the need to reduce red tape but saying it must be done without weakening environmental protections. Several members of Polis’ cabinet testified Tuesday.

Another hearing will be held Feb. 25 in Washington.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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