WASHINGTON -- With an eye on the November elections, top Democrats are ramping up criticism of President Donald Trump's deregulatory environmental agenda, including his move Wednesday to weaken a bedrock environmental law from the 1970s.
At a UPS warehouse in Atlanta, the president trumpeted changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires that federal agencies analyze the environmental impact of major projects, such as chemical plants, pipelines, mines, highways and dredging. It also established the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, which released the new NEPA rule.
"Today's action is part of my administration's fierce commitment to slashing the web of needless bureaucracy that was holding back our citizens," Trump said, telling the audience the rule would make it easier to build and use highways. "I've been wanting to do this since day one."
Considered a foundational piece of U.S. environmental law, NEPA has long irritated conservative Republicans and fossil energy company officials by tripping up the approval of major pipelines and other projects because of the environmental harm they would cause.
Even before Trump left Washington, Democrats unleashed a fusillade of criticism over the rollback.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said the president was "coddling corporate polluters" and removing "the last lines of defense" for communities near pollution. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said the decision would harm those who live near construction sites -- "particularly minority and lower-income communities that are most vulnerable to the effects of pollution and climate change."
Speaker Nancy Pelosi derided the move as "an anti-science, anti-governance assault." Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., chairwoman of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said "the president gives polluters carte blanche to do what they want and he asks families to pay the price."
And Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., citing a report the Government Accountability Office released Tuesday, said the changes could prevent citizens from weighing in on major projects, a process that has happened for five decades. "Among hundreds of 'swampy' acts by this President, this is among the swampiest," Leahy said.
GAO reportThe GAO found that the Trump administration has lowered an economic metric the federal government uses in its rules known as the "social cost of carbon" by about seven times versus the Obama-era standards.
In its final rule, CEQ set a goal of completing environmental reviews within two years and set page limits on environmental impact statements and environmental assessments. It also requires that environmental assessments be completed in a year. It would also modify requirements to consider climate change before a project can go ahead.