South Dakota US Senator Mike Rounds says the Trump Administration’s proposed changes to a half-century-old federal environmental law are steps in the right direction.
But an environmental lawyer says the changes could cut the public out of the decision-making process for projects with environmental impacts.
The Trump Administration proposed new regulations Thursday to govern the enforcement of the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA. The administration said the proposed regulations would modernize and accelerate the government’s environmental reviews of projects such as roads, bridges, pipelines and mines.
Senator Rounds says the goal is not to eliminate federal protections of the environment, but to expedite the approval process.
He says delays add cost to a project.
“That’s what the president is trying to get at here,” Rounds says. “I agree with him. I don’t think you should be able to kill projects by just delaying them. If you’ve got the ability and you can show that it’s not a good one, then put your facts out there and have the decision made. Don’t just try to kill a project by simply paperwork and more delay and more delay.”
Rounds says infrastructure projects—like rebuilding a road or bridge in the same location—sometimes go through large amounts of paperwork before getting approval.
But it’s not just infrastructure projects that could get impacted.
Jeff Parsons is an attorney for the Western Mining Action Project in the Denver area. He represents the Oglala Sioux Tribe in its long-running opposition to a proposed uranium mine near Edgemont, which is currently stalled by NEPA-related proceedings.
“For the public it’s the only method for concerned citizens to get involved. Without NEPA there is no effective process for public involvement,” Parsons says. “So, to cut out NEPA is effectively cutting out the public’s ability to be involved in these decisions that could have serious long-term impacts.”
Parsons says the Trump administration’s proposed changes to NEPA are likely to be challenged in the courts, and it could take years to resolve the litigation.