The Trump Administration is seeking to exempt numerous infrastructure projects from decades-old federal environmental regulations. Opponents of proposed changes are already vowing to fight them in court.
Under the National Environmental Policy Act, in effect since 1970, projects involving federal agencies or entities using federal funding are required to take environmental impact under consideration. The Act also requires citizens and other affected stakeholders be granted a period to express their concerns. President
Trump has wanted to speed up the process to allow projects such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects to proceed, and on Thursday argued that the Act creates job-killing regulations and endless delays. If Trump has his way, projects that don't receive significant federal funding would get eased rules and federal review periods would be shortened.
Critics of his proposed changes say they would favor corporate interests over public health, allowing the potential for air and water quality to be compromised. One critic based in Western New York says the president's desired changes would also shut out the voices of citizens directly affected.
"It's a process by letting people know what's going to go on and providing them an opportunity to look at the size of the impact and be part of a commenting process," said Kim Diana Connolly, professor of law at the University at Buffalo School of Law, about the existing law.
The National Environmental Policy Act marked its 50th anniversary this New Year's Day and predates the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency, which was proposed by President Richard Nixon and implemented later that year. It has been little changed since, according to Connolly, who says while it's not perfect it has done what Congress passed it to do.
"We've had this existing National Environmental Policy Act process all the time that Western New York has had its standing economy," Connolly said. "We've been operating under this existing process and Western New York is doing well. It has not stopped the progress we've been seeing."
Connolly notes many have already vowed to sue to stop any changes to the Act, should they occur.