Reports: Trump looks to overhaul landmark environmental and climate rules

The Trump administration plans to rewrite decades-old regulations to make it easier to build major infrastructure such as pipelines, which would have the effect of relaxing government efforts to fight the climate crisis, The Washington Post and The New York Times reported Thursday.

President Donald Trump is scheduled to announce changes to National Environmental Policy Act rules, which requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impact of projects, later Thursday morning. The administration proposal would change when environmental assessments must be performed and what impacts must be considered, two significant moves that could make it easier to grant approvals, the newspapers reported.

Under the new proposal, privately backed projects that receive minimal federal funding would be exempt from environmental review, according to the Post.

Agencies would not have to consider “cumulative” effects of new infrastructure under the new rule, which courts have interpreted as a mandate to study effects of emitting more greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Times. That includes the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels.

The Post reported that the proposal would also require federal agencies to complete their environmental reviews within a tighter deadline and limit the pages of its assessments.

The new regulations are guaranteed to face legal challenges from environmental groups.

In a statement issued on January 1, Trump argued that the “environmental review process designed to improve decision making has become increasingly complex and difficult to navigate.”

“Project sponsors and ordinary Americans seeking decisions on permits from the Federal Government can face significant uncertainty and delays that can increase costs, derail important projects, and threaten jobs for American workers and labor union members,” Trump said.

He added that the Council on Environmental Quality has conducted a thorough review of NEPA and “will soon issue a proposal to update those regulations.”

Environmental activists and others have used NEPA to delay or block infrastructure and drilling projects, like the Keystone XL pipeline.

In 2018, a federal judge halted construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, finding that the US government’s use of a 2014 environmental review to justify issuing a presidential permit for construction of the cross-border pipeline violated NEPA, among other laws.

The Trump administration has worked to overhaul other parts of the nation’s environmental frameworks and scaled back or rescinded key elements of the Obama administration’s rules to combat climate change.

The Center for Biological Diversity called the new regulation a “gift” from Trump to the fossil fuel industry and warned that the changes will “threaten critical safeguards for air, water and wildlife.”

“Forcing federal agencies to ignore environmental threats is a disgraceful abdication of our responsibility to protect the planet for future generations.” Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement.

This story is breaking and will be updated.