White House seeks to roll back rule on environmental impact studies

In this Oct. 22, 2019 file photo, pipes lay along a construction site on the Mariner East pipeline in a residential neighborhood in Exton, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

In this Oct. 22, 2019 file photo, pipes lay along a construction site on the Mariner East pipeline in a residential neighborhood in Exton, Pa. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

President Donald Trump wants to roll back a major environmental rule he says slows down projects like new pipelines. His proposal would limit environmental impact studies, a critical part of how local communities learn what will be coming to their neighborhood.

Fifty years ago, former President Richard Nixon signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

The rule requires federal review of the environmental impact of major infrastructure projects, including efforts such as the PennEast pipeline and the Delaware River deepening project. In both cases, the NEPA process did not result in federal agencies blocking construction, although New Jersey is challenging PennEast.

A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, a coalition of building trades unions and chambers of commerce, said the rollback is needed to prevent opponents from blocking pipelines.

“Employee safety and environmental protection are the cornerstones of responsible pipeline development,” said the group’s spokesman, Kurt Knaus. “That won’t change. What will change is the unchecked power of just a handful of opponents to delay or block development of critical infrastructure projects that benefit the greater good.”

The Delaware Riverkeeper Network’s Maya van Rossum disagreed.

“NEPA is not some big roadblock to allowing projects to move forward,” said van Rossum.

The environmental group opposes new natural-gas pipelines like PennEast.

“They have major ramifications for whether or not water gets polluted, air gets contaminated, whether or not climate instability gets exacerbated,” van Rossum said of the environmental impact reviews. 

NEPA is crucial for public awareness and participation when it comes to large building projects, she said: “Giving them the information to understand the implications of that proposal. And then giving them the information they need to either support or challenge that project or proposal.”

Trump’s proposed rules would exclude privately funded projects from federal scrutiny and eliminate the requirement to consider the impacts on climate change. Court challenges are expected.

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