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Trumps Efforts to Reform Environmental Impact Statements Draw Cheers and Jeers

President Donald Trumps efforts to streamline, accelerate and modernize the environmental review pro..

President Donald Trumps efforts to streamline, accelerate and modernize the environmental review process could curtail abusive litigation practices that undermine economic development and jeopardize national security, according to congressional figures and energy policy analysts.

The 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, which has not been revised since 1986, has been weaponized by anti-development groups to delay vital federal infrastructure projects and exploited to serve as a tool for excessive litigation to the detriment of Americas military readiness, they argue.

But Trumps proposed overhaul of NEPA, which he officially announced during a White House press conference in January, has also been the subject of intense criticism from environmental advocacy groups that have been among the most aggressive litigators targeting federal construction projects and military exercises.

Some of these same environmental groups have also come under scrutiny for potential violations of foreign agent registration requirements since their litigation practices appear to align with the geopolitical interests of foreign powers, according to congressional correspondence.

Proposed Reforms

NEPA stipulates that federal agencies must consider the environmental impact of any federal actions that could significantly impact the quality of the environment. The law also says that federal agencies must consider potential alternatives to proposed actions. Current regulations call for federal agencies to produce documents called environmental impact statements (EISs) in anticipation of any significant federal actions and to prepare environmental assessments (EAs) to determine if the environmental statement is necessary or to explain why it is not.

The Trump administrations proposed rules would set a time limit of two years for the completion of environmental impact statements and one year for the completion of environmental assessments. The proposed reforms would also specify page limits for NEPA reports and require joint schedules to be established across multiple agencies so workers and companies could have greater certainty in their planning.

As part of its proposed NEPA overhaul, the Trump administration also seeks to “simplify” what is meant by environmental “effects” and to “clarify that effects must be reasonably foreseeable and have a reasonably close relationship to the proposed action,” while also declaring an “analysis of cumulative effects” would no longer be required, according to the administrations proposal.

Green Activists Condemn

Green activists who view NEPA as a safeguard against the potential long-term effects of climate change have been particularly critical of the administrations efforts to redefine what is meant by environmental effects and to limit the scope of what is included in NEPA reviews.

Gina McCarthy, the president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit group headquartered in New York, has released a statement describing Trumps proposal as a “dangerous move.” McCarthy, who served as President Obamas EPA director, also said in her statement that “NEPA has been an essential part of the public process, providing critical oversight that the federal government relies on to fully understand the potential implications of projects that can harm peoples health and environment.”

In a blog for the NRDC, Sharon Buccino, a senior director for the nonprofit group, warned against excluding “cumulative effects” as a major consideration within NEPA.

“The current regulations recognize that individually minor actions may add up to a significant impact over time or space,” she wrote. “Agencies must consider how their actions will contribute to or be affected by these combined, incremental effects of human activity in their environmental review.”

Other prominent opponents of Trumps regulatory rollback include the Center for Biological Diversity, a green legal advocacy group, based in Tucson, Arizona.

If the administrations proposals become law, federal agencies will be empowered with the ability to ignore the potential impact a projects greenhouse gases would have on climate change, the group claims in a press release. “The proposal would also eliminate consideration of cumulative impacts, such as damage to public lands and wildlife from fossil fuel extraction,” the release says.

NEPA a Tool for Excessive Litigation

But it is precisely because nonprofit advocacy groups like the NRDC and the Center for Biological Diversity have continuously misused NEPA to the point where vital projects are needlessly delayed without any appreciable environmental benefit that the time has come to upgrade the law and improve its implementation, Rep. Rob Bishop(R-Utah) told the Epoch Times in an email statement.

“When NEPA was signed into law, it was originally intended to ensure that each federal agency carefully considered the environment when making decisions,” the congressman said in the email. “However, NEPA has devolved into a tool for excessive litigation aimed at impeding necessary infrastructure projects. To boot, the myriad of lawsuits have left our military vulnerable as our judiciary system is exploited under the guise of environmental justice. For our foreign adversaries, such litigation serves as an inexpensive tool to reduce our military readiness and defense capabilities.”

FARA

When he served as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee in 2018, Bishop led an effort to probe into potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires anyone who acts as an agent of foreign principals “in a political or quasi-political capacity,” to disclose that relationship periodically, as well as “activities, receipts, and disbursements in support of those activities,” according to the Justice Department.

Bishop sent letters to the NRDC, the Center for Biological Diversity, the World Resources Institute and Earthjustice in 2018 inquiring about any relationship between the nonprofit environmental advocacy groups and foreign governments, especially China. In his correspondence, Bishop also asked each group if they were in compliance with FARA requirements. Earthjustice, a nonprofit public interest law outfit based in San Francisco, California, registered under FARA in September. But the other groups have repeatedly denied operating as foreign agents.

In his letter to the NRDC co-signed by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R., Ark.) who then chaired the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Bishop expressed concern about the NRDCs “role in aiding Chinas perception management efforts with respect to pollution control and its international standing on environmental issues in ways that may be detrimental to the United States.”

Bishop and Westerman also made the point that the green groups “relationship with China has many of the criteria identified by U.S. intelligence agencies and law enforcement as putting an entity at risk of being influenced or coerced by foreign interests.” The letter also calls attention to the NRDCs long history of litigation against the U.S. Navy under NEPA, and other environmental laws.

“Over the last two decades, your organization has also sued the U.S. Navy multiple times to stop or drastically limit naval training exercises in the Pacific arguing that naval sonar and anti-submarine warfare drills harm marine life,” Bishop says in the letter. “We are unaware of the NRDC having made similar efforts to curtail naval exercises by the Chinese Peoples Liberation Army Navy.”

Bonner Cohen, a senior fellow with the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, concurs with Bishops assessment of NEPAs defects and credits the Trump administration for pressing ahead with proposed changes.

“There is no doubt that NEPA has been a huge strategic asset to Americas geopolitical rivals,” he said in an interview. “Without having to raise a finger, China, Russia, and other adversaries have been able to let American environmental groups do their dirty work for them. Sometimes they have even been rewarded for the services they render, in the form of Russian money duly laundered through offshore and onshore entities, not to mention the remarkable partnership that has developed between the NRDC and the PRC. The cumbersome and time-consuming NEPA process has been a blessing to Americas rivals, who rightly fear the implication of American global energy dominance.”

Cohen continued:

“Still saddled with a flawed law that only Congress can fix, the Trump administration has grasped the essence of the problem and is using administrative reforms to speed up the process. NEPA-related delays will still happen, but the amount of time lost should be reduced through the deadlines and page limits on environmental impact statements and other paperwork requirements.”

Every Citizen a Voice

The Epoch Times contacted both the NRDC and the Center for Biological Diversity and asked both organizations if they would like to comment further on the impact the proposed NEPA reforms might have on their litigation practices and if they had any further response to allegations that they might be in violation of FARA requirements. The NRDC had not responded by the time this story went to press, but Brett Hartl, the government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, did respond in an email.

“Regarding NEPA, one of the two foundational goals of NEPA is to give every citizen a voice in how the federal government acts on its behalf,” he wrote. “And most of the thoRead More – Source
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The Epoch Times

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