President Donald Trump wants to roll back a major environmental rule he says slows down projects like new pipelines.
His proposal would limit environmental impact studies, a critical part of how local communities learn what will be coming to their neighborhood.
Fifty years ago, former President Richard Nixon signed into law the National Environmental Policy Act – or NEPA.
NEPA requires federal review of environmental impacts on major infrastructure projects, including things like the PennEast pipeline and the Delaware River deepening project. In both cases, the NEPA process did not result in federal agencies blocking construction, although New Jersey is challenging PennEast.
A spokesman for the Pennsylvania Energy Infrastructure Alliance, a coalition of building trade unions and chambers of commerce, says the rollbacks are needed to prevent opponents from blocking pipelines.
“Employee safety and environmental protection are the cornerstones of responsible pipeline development,” said the group’s spokesman, Kurt Knaus. “That won’t change. What will change is the unchecked power of just a handful of opponents to delay or block development of critical infrastructure projects that benefit the greater good.”
The Delaware Riverkeeper’s Maya van Rossum disagrees.
“NEPA is not some big road block to allowing projects to move forward,” she said.
The environmental group opposes new natural gas pipelines like PennEast.
“They have major ramifications for whether or not water gets polluted, air gets contaminated, whether or not climate instability gets exacerbated.”
She says NEPA is crucial for public awareness and participation when it comes to large building projects.
“Giving them the information to understand the implications of that proposal. And then giving them the information they need to either support or challenge that project or proposal.”
Trump’s proposed rules would exclude privately funded projects from federal scrutiny and eliminate the requirement to consider the impacts on climate change. Court challenges are expected.
This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WESA, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.