THE NEUTRAL ZONE
On Thursday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order focused on “reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system” through altered requirements related to infrastructure and the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. The goal of the order is to “fast-track big new infrastructure projects to boost the economy” amid the effects of the pandemic.
The executive order received backlash from environmental justice advocates on both its substance and timing. Christy Goldfuss, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality during the Obama administration and current vice president at the Center for American Progress, stated, “This administration is removing phantom barriers that are, at their essence, protections for the very communities that are struggling most from the health impacts of air and water pollution.”
House Natural Resources Chairman Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ) said in an emailed statement, “Gutting NEPA takes away one of the few tools communities of color have to protect themselves and make their voices heard on federal decisions impacting them.” Robert Bullard, an environmental policy professor at Texas Southern University stated that the NEPA requirements suspensions could have disproportionate effects on minority communities.
Besieged by Protesters Demanding Racial Justice, Trump Signs Order Waiving Environmental Safeguards – InsideClimate News – 6/5/2020
The president’s critics were quick to point out that his order was poorly timed, since minority communities would be disproportionately affected by his move to waive the environmental review mandated under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). “Today President Trump is dealing another blow to the Black community, during a worldwide pandemic and nearly a week into nationwide Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality and structural racism,” said Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, in a statement.
‘Another Blow to the Black Community’: Trump Waives Environmental Law That Gives Public a Voice in Infrastructure Projects – EcoWatch – 6/5/2020
Trump said the rule was designed to stimulate the economy in response to the coronavirus pandemic, but critics say the move will disproportionately impact communities of color amidst ongoing national protests following the police murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other Black Americans. The order instructs agencies to work around the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which gives communities a chance to weigh in on projects that would impact them, as NPR explained.
Trump ’emergency’ order to waive environmental reviews for infrastructure tests legal bounds – Washington Examiner – 6/4/2020
Unnecessary regulatory delays will deny our citizens opportunities for jobs and economic security, keeping millions of Americans out of work and hindering our economic recovery from the national emergency,” the order says. According to legal experts, the federal government can waive environmental regulations during an emergency, but it’s primarily been used in the past for physical reasons rather than economic ones.
Trump Order Waives Project Environment Rules to Push COVID-19 Recovery – Engineering News-Record – 6/4/2020
The order directs chiefs of the U.S. Transportation Dept. and U.S. Army civil works units, among other agencies, to provide a list of expedited projects by around July 4 to top officials of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and White House economic and environmental advisors, with work progress updates every 30 days “for the duration of the national emergency.”
Eric Holthaus on Twitter, 6/5/2020: 🚨 Trump just signed an executive order using emergency powers to gut the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act, waiving the requirement for environmental review for construction projects. 🚨 Holy sh*t.
Rep Jerry Nadler on Twitter, 6/5/2020: The Trump Administration has latched onto COVID19 as a vehicle for their destructive, deregulatory agenda. While America was focused on a pandemic, the Trump Admin was aggressively eliminating crucial civil rights and environmental protections. This is reckless and inappropriate.
Sammy Roth on Twitter, 6/5/2020: President Trump signed an executive order Thursday instructing agencies to waive long-standing environmental laws to speed up federal approval for new mines, highways, pipelines and other projects given the current economic “emergency.”
Igor Bobic on Twitter, 6/5/2020: (Trump has been pushing for a payroll tax cut, infrastructure spending, and other proposals for months, and Senate Republicans have ignored him, so…)