On Thursday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that would remove the environmental review process for major projects. As reported by The Hill, the new order uses emergency powers to skirt various environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — all with little public notice.
"From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays," Trump wrote in the order. "The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis."
Environmental justice advocates are pushing back against the move, which comes as the U.S. is gripped by protests over the killing of George Floyd. As reported by The Guardian, Jesse Prentice-Dunn, policy director of the Center for Western Priorities, said the order would "almost certainly" exacerbate "environmental injustice" across the U.S.
Christy Goldfuss, who headed the White House Council on Environmental Quality under Barack Obama's administration, believes that the move will disproportionately affect the communities that are hit hardest from the impacts of water and air pollution, as well as those impacted most from coronavirus and police brutality.
Democratic Sen. Tom Carper, who is the ranking member on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, accused Trump of using the country's chaotic climate as cover for advancing his administration's agenda.Nada Culver, senior policy counsel with the National Audubon Society, pointed to the many implications of the executive order.
"You're not conducting adequate environmental review; you're not receiving public comments or responding to public comments. You're not taking into account the value of birds, wildlife, tribal interests, community impacts. All of those things are considered a burden with this language."Trump previously weakened the Endangered Species Act by scaling back many of the law's protections for threatened species. The act was passed in 1973 by former President Richard Nixon.
According to Joel Mintz, a former Environmental Protection Agency enforcement and supervisory attorney, it's unclear if Trump's order is within his legal authority to remove the environmental review process, which would allow energy and construction projects to proceed without analysis of the many possible environmental implications.
The Trump administration has long been criticized for its disregard for the environment. Penn State University professor Dr. Michael E. Mann said that Trump's policies would cause irreversible damage to the environment and cause rippling effects that will be felt for years to come.
According to Mann, the point of no return is the melting of the major ice sheets, which CNN reported are melting at a faster rate than previously thought.