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OVERNIGHT ENERGY: White House aims to roll back bedrock environmental law to speed development| Democrats, greens blast Trump rollback of major environmental law| Trump says ‘nothing’s a hoax’ about climate change

NEPA: The White House on Thursday issued sweeping changes to one of the nation’s bedrock environmental laws, allowing greater industry involvement in environmental reviews of projects and diminishing the role climate change plays in those assessments.

The changes target the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires agencies to evaluate how pipelines, highways and some oil and gas development affects the environment and nearby communities.

The law has been a repeated target of President Trump, who has vowed to speed the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure and eliminate barriers to construction projects.

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Flanked by industry leaders at Thursday morning press conference, Trump described the measure as a complete overhaul.

“From Day One, my administration has made fixing this regulatory nightmare a top priority. And we want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways bigger, better, faster, and we want to build them at less cost,” he said.

The changes, which will be posted to the Federal Register on Friday, would limit the law’s scope, excluding some projects from undergoing NEPA review, like those that receive little federal funding. It also opens the door for more industry involvement in reviewing the environmental impacts of their projects.

While NEPA serves a noble purpose, it has “paralyzed commonsense decisionmaking for a generation,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said on a call to present the proposal, listing a wide range of projects that have been delayed by environmental analyses.

“This is a really, really big proposal. It affects virtually every big decision made by the federal government that affects the environment, and I think it will be the most significant deregulatory proposal you ultimately implement,” Bernhardt told Trump.

The proposal from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) would no longer require consideration of the “cumulative” effects of new projects. Courts have largely interpreted that as studying how a project might contribute to climate change, say by contributing heat-trapping greenhouse gases, or how it might be influenced by effects of climate change like extreme weather.

Under the changes proposed by the Trump administration, officials would need to consider effects of a project that are “reasonably foreseeable” and show “a reasonably close causal relationship.”

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Environmentalists say those changes would allow the government to look the other way when projects contribute considerable amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

“Over past decades, courts have said this means not only what’s happening on the postage stamp-sized area around the pipeline or the bridge, but the cumulative impacts on the environmental health and water and communities surrounding the project. That’s what they’re going to try and restrict,” said Christy Goldfuss, who was the managing director of the CEQ for the last two years of the Obama administration.

But ignoring climate change could also have disastrous implications for the projects themselves.

“This is a huge problem when you’re building for the future and building major infrastructure. If you’re not looking at where sea level rise going to be, where our historical flooding habits are changing, what is history of wildfire in this region, then you’re just building to the trends of 50 years ago, and we know the environment is changing so rapidly,” Goldfuss, who is now senior vice president of energy and environment at the Center for American Progress, said.

“We have tools to estimate what the future will look like as a result of climate change and that information should be available to decisionmakers when they spend taxpayer dollars,” she added.

The latest guidance faces a 60-day comment period before it can be finalized.

Read much more about the controversial measure here

IT’S THURSDAY! Welcome to Overnight Energy, The Hill’s roundup of the latest energy and environment news.

Please send tips and comments to Rebecca Beitsch at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @rebeccabeitsch. Reach Rachel Frazin at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter: @RachelFrazin.

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NOPE-A: President Trump’s latest environmental rollback was met with strong resistance from a number of Democratic lawmakers and nearly every major environmental group Thursday, with critics lambasting the administration for seeking to unwind a bedrock environmental law.

The proposal from the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) targets the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which for 50 years has required detailed environmental reviews of major projects like pipelines, highways and some oil and gas projects.

The sweeping changes allow greater industry involvement in environmental reviews of projects, while diminishing the role climate change plays in those assessments.

Various groups and lawmakers described the proposal as misguided, profoundly irresponsible, unlawful and turning “a blind eye to the climate crisis.”

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Supporters of the proposal have hailed it as a modernization of a law blamed for delaying construction projects with unnecessarily lengthy reviews. It’s been widely praised by a broad range of industry groups, from the construction sector to farmers and ranchers to the energy industry. 

But environmentalists fear it will hasten the development of climate change and allow businesses to shortcut examination of the environmental impacts of their projects. Because some projects may no longer be required to undergo an assessment, critics say the changes would allow companies to sidestep public scrutiny of their projects.

“This isn’t just an effort to ‘modernize’ the review process,” said Christy Goldfuss, who was the managing director of the CEQ for the last two years of the Obama administration and now works at the Center for American Progress. “This is about allowing pipelines and dirty fossil fuel projects to bulldoze communities with less public input and less disclosure of potentially harmful public health, environmental and climate change impacts.”

At a press conference Thursday morning where Trump was flanked by Cabinet members and industry leaders, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt told the president he expects the proposal to be the “most significant deregulatory proposal you ultimately implement.”

But Democratic lawmakers described the NEPA changes as one of the worst environmental policies from an administration with a long list of rollbacks. 

“This move to gut NEPA is one of the worst decisions made by the worst environmental administration in history,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said in a release. 

Read more about the opposition here

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WELL THAT’S A CHANGE: President Trump said Thursday that “nothing’s a hoax” about climate change, the same day that he announced a rollback to a major environmental law. 

“Nothing’s a hoax about that. It’s a very serious subject. I want clean air; I want clean water. I want the cleanest air with the cleanest water. The environment’s very important to me,” Trump told reporters.

You may remember Trump has repeatedly referred to climate change as a hoax in the past…

At other points, Trump has expressed skepticism about climate change, including a 2012 tweet suggesting it was created by China to hurt U.S. manufacturing.

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive,” he wrote at the time.

Trump’s remarks came as part of a White House event tied to changes the president announced Thursday to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The changes would relieve agencies from considering climate change as they weigh environmental impacts of major infrastructure projects. 

Read more on that here

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MAILBAG: Reps. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) and Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) sent a letter to the entire House on Thursday, urging their colleagues to oppose President Trump’s proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Trump earlier that day outlined changes he hopes to make to the rule that would allow more industry involvement in environmental reviews and lessen the extent to which climate change is a factor in those assessments.  

“We invite you to join us in expressing our strong opposition to the Trump Administration’s plans, announced today, to revise the regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in a way that, among other things, ignores the full extent of the climate crisis,” DeGette and Rooney wrote in their letter. 

Read more about the letter here

IN NON-NEPA NEWS: The Sunrise Movement is endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders‘s (I-Vt.) 2020 president campaign, becoming the latest group to back him over Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a fellow progressive White House hopeful.

“We believe a Bernie Sanders Presidency would provide the best political terrain in which to engage in and ultimately win that struggle for the world we deserve,” the youth-led climate group said in a Medium post.

“Bernie Sanders knows that winning a world with social, racial, economic, and environmental justice … a world in which we stop climate change, create millions of good jobs, and enact a new social contract for the 21st Century through a Green New Deal — cannot be achieved by one President or even the government on its own,” it added. 

A clear majority, 76 percent, of Sunrise Movement’s members voted to endorse Sanders, the organization said in a statement. The candidate with the second-greatest support was Warren, who was favored by 17.4 percent of the group’s membership. 

Read more on the endorsement here

OUTSIDE THE BELTWAY: 

Maryland governor directs AG to sue Pennsylvania, EPA over Chesapeake Bay, WBAL11 reports.

US firefighters applauded on arrival in Australia, we report

Carnival Insists Progress in Curbing Cruise Ship Pollution, the Associated Press reports.

ICYMI: Stories from Thursday…

Youth-led climate group endorses Sanders for president

Australian billionaire to spend $48M on bushfire relief efforts

White House aims to roll back bedrock environmental law to speed development

Trump says ‘nothing’s a hoax‘ about climate change

US firefighters applauded on arrival in Australia

Democrats, greens blast Trump rollback of major environmental law

 

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