The Trump administration says that its latest assault on the nation’s environmental regulations will promote “commonsense decision-making.” In reality, the proposed changes defy common sense.
President Trump, who’s never met an environmental regulation he likes, is now trying to make it easier to build pipelines, mines and big fossil-fuel infrastructure projects without regard for how they will contribute to climate change or affect nearby communities.
If they survive legal challenges, the rule changes would severely limit enforcement of the National Environmental Policy Act, a 50-year-old law that has helped to reduce the negative effects of construction projects.
The administration says federal agencies will still need to assess the impact of a major project, as the law dictates. But they won’t need to worry about “cumulative effects,” which courts have reasonably decided include such things as spewing a lot of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change and all the harm it causes. They will just need to consider problems that are “reasonably foreseeable” and that have a “close causal relationship.”
So they won’t need to bother about, say, the rising sea levels that, in the not-so-distant future, might threaten some of the major projects being proposed.
If this head-in-the-sand attitude sounds familiar here, it might be because of the national ridicule heaped on North Carolina back in 2012 when the legislature passed a law ordering agencies to ignore the science on sea-level rise when regulating development on our coast. So development boomed, leaving a lot more people, homes and businesses at the mercy of recent hurricanes.
And, under the new rules, federal agencies won’t need to bother about what a lot of new mines, pipelines and other fossil-fuel projects will add to the global warming that’s already having devastating effects in many places.
Where’s the common sense in that?
And where’s the common sense in doing everything possible to prolong dependence on fossil fuels that scientists say are a major cause of climate change?
The Trump administration announced its rule changes against a backdrop of horrifying news coverage of wildfires that have destroyed millions of acres in Australia, killing people and wildlife. Arson and lightning are the immediate cause of some of the blazes, but scientists say that global warming provides the conditions that let the fires grow and spread. Australia is in the midst of its driest and hottest summer on record.
That’s the sort of “cumulative effects” the administration thinks don’t matter.
Trump’s Interior secretary, David Bernhardt, didn’t just boast that the changes will promote “common-sense decision-making.” He also said they will promote “American exceptionalism and excellence.” In reality, rolling back one of America’s most important and effective environmental laws means that once again, this country is turning to the polluted past rather than being a leader in developing alternative fuels and slowing climate change.
The changes also would give those wanting to build the projects more of a role in developing environmental impact studies. Those who live close to proposed projects would likely get less say. And there will be deadlines to limit reviews and speed projects up.
It’s little wonder that industry groups praised the changes. Jay Timmons, the head of the National Association of Manufacturers, was quoted as saying his group had called for “exactly” what the Trump administration is proposing.
No surprise there. Also, no common sense.