The Slatest

Trump Proposes Scrapping Federal Environmental Review Before Oil Extraction and Mining Projects Begin

A worker in hazmat gear rakes sand next to oil-covered rocks on a beach.
The aftermath of a 100,000-gallon oil spill from an abandoned pipeline on the land near Refugio State Beach in May 2015 in Goleta, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The Trump administration is set to propose on Thursday a dramatic reduction in federal environmental oversight of big, privately funded infrastructure projects, a move that would make it easier for large-scale efforts, namely oil and gas extraction and mining, to break ground. President Donald Trump has publicly groused about the environmental red tape involved in getting such projects, like the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, up and running. The Trump proposal amounts to a dramatic overhaul—or gutting—of the National Environmental Policy Act, a 50-year-old law requiring the federal government to assess the environmental impact of large-scale projects. Recently, federal courts have interpreted NEPA to include a project’s carbon footprint and contribution to climate change.


“The proposed regulations would redefine what constitutes a ‘major federal action’ to exclude privately financed projects that have minimal government funding or involvement [and] … scale back what constitutes environmental ‘effects’ from a given action, which could make it harder to include a project’s climate impact in any analysis,” according to the Washington Post. The result, the Post notes, is that the effort “represents one of the most forceful efforts to date by the Trump administration to strip away existing legal constraints on construction and energy production in the United States.”

The types of projects that fall under NEPA, according the Post, “range from a mining company applying for a permit to drain a wetland to an energy company seeking federal approval to conduct seismic testing offshore or to lay down ice roads to hunt for oil.” The White House Council on Environmental Quality says that currently the federal government prepares 170 environmental assessments each year and that the average assessment runs 600 pages and takes 4½ years.