By Tom Wheeler
In the midst of the turmoil and unrest of last week, the Trump administration quietly used the COVID-19 pandemic to undermine federal environmental laws and fast-track oil and gas drilling. In an executive order issued on June 4, the administration cited the global pandemic and its effects on the economy as justification for “reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays.”
In the executive order, Trump first directs that all federal agencies examine potential projects the agencies can pursue to expedite the “delivery of infrastructure” on public lands, such as oil and gas development and to use all available “emergency…authorities to expedite” their construction.
Second, the Trump administration takes direct aim at the National Environmental Policy Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. To the National Environmental Policy Act, the Trump administration calls for a broad utilization of “alternative arrangements” that can be used in times of emergency to bypass public disclosure and public comment requirements of the law, allowing for projects to be built without adequate environmental review and oversight. To the Clean Water Act, the executive order similarly calls for projects to be shepherded through under emergency rules, trading degradation of waterways for expedited projects. Lastly to the Endangered Species Act, the executive order directs that federal agencies not consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the National Marine Fisheries Service about the effects of projects on listed species.
The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of its intent to sue President Donald Trump over this executive order.
“Everyone sees through Trump’s ploy. There’s quite a difference between rebuilding after an earthquake and claiming we need to build an oil pipeline to fight the coronavirus,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center. “This dangerous executive order is an open-ended invitation for abuse, and if he doesn’t revoke it, we’ll take him to court.”