Trump’s easing of key environmental law slammed by top Colorado Democrats

By: - July 16, 2020 11:53 am

A rendering of the planned $1.2 billion overhaul of Interstate 70 in north Denver, one of many major infrastructure projects subject to NEPA environmental reviews. (Colorado Department of Transportation)

Top Democrats and environmental advocates in Colorado had harsh words for President Donald Trump’s decision to weaken a longstanding environmental law that requires extensive federal review processes for large industrial and infrastructure projects.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality announced on July 15 that it had finalized work to “modernize” certain provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, placing limits on the length and scope of environmental reviews that it said have become “far too complex, costly, and time consuming.”

The environmental analyses and public-comment procedures required under NEPA, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970, have helped guide major Colorado projects like the cleanup of the former Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant, highway overhauls like the Central 70 Project, oil and gas development and many others. Critics of the Trump administration say the NEPA rollback is another attempt to weaken critical environmental protections on behalf of industrial polluters and other political allies.

“This bedrock law helps protect the air we breathe and the water that is the lifeblood of our communities,” Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement. “The Trump administration continues to put its thumb on the scale in order to favor special interests over hardworking Coloradans who value our environment and support a deliberative, citizen involved government. While I share the goal of cutting red tape, this latest Trump move is a misstep.”

Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse tweeted on Wednesday, “Trump’s NEPA rollbacks further entrench federal climate denial & allow the government to ignore the effects of climate change when planning new projects.”

Environmental advocates also criticized the administration’s rushed timeline for the changes to NEPA, which were formally proposed in January and were the subject of only two hearings for public comment — including one at the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 8 headquarters in Denver in February. At that hearing, representatives of the fossil-fuel and mining industries spoke in favor of the rule changes, while a wide variety of Colorado elected officials and activists opposed them.

“NEPA has quietly protected some of our most precious, environmentally sensitive places,” Eric Timlin, a field organizer with Environment Colorado, said of the finalization of the new rule. “Without these safeguards, our environment is at greater risk because our government will no longer have to look before it leaps. These regulations have served as a key tool for assuring the federal government acts as a responsible trustee for future generations.”

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Chase Woodruff
Chase Woodruff

Reporter Chase Woodruff covers the environment, the economy and other stories for Colorado Newsline.