Environmental groups indicated they were blindsided Thursday, Jan. 2, when the White House introduced proposed new environmental regulations that would speed up new infrastructure projects, such as oil and gas pipelines, while giving communities less of a say in local developments.
Paul Blackburn, a staff attorney for Minneapolis-based indigenous environmental nonprofit Honor the Earth, said it was unusual for the administration to introduce the proposal without any advance notice. Also unusual was the manner in which the proposed regulations were released, he said. There were no redlines, which negated the ability to cut and paste, making it more difficult to parse through.
Blackburn said the document will take a significant amount of time to read and understand, regardless of whether the Trump administration releases the document in a more manageable format in the coming days.
The proposed changes are being made to the National Environmental Protection Act, which has remained largely unaltered since the 1970s. The changes, described as a modernization by the White House, would scale back a requirement for federal agencies to assess the impact of major infrastructure projects on local communities and the climate before the work begins. In doing so, the Trump administration aims to drastically reduce the amount of time it takes for major projects to be approved.
Without looking thoroughly through the document, Blackburn said Honor the Earth is already "deeply concerned" about the proposed changes.
"This law is one of only two laws that allows citizens to participate in federal decision making," he said. "If it substantially changes and reduces citizen participation in these laws, then corporations are just going to be able to steamroll citizens even more than they already do."
Blackburn said that his next priority is thoroughly understanding the proposed changes and said that, while it's not certain that Honor the Earth will pursue litigation in response to the proposal, it's certainly possible.
Meanwhile, local lawmakers have applauded the move.
State Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said agriculture in North Dakota has been significantly impacted by years-long wait times under NEPA.
"Ranchers have had to wait for years to execute a managed grazing plan until environmental impact statements were done," Goehring said in a statement. "Even management of destructive prairie dogs on grasslands required a lengthy process, which resulted in more destruction of forage and harm to the environment before a plan to control them could be implemented."
Gov. Doug Burgum also praised the Trump administration for what he called "common-sense reforms to modernize and streamline NEPA."
"No one cares more about North Dakota's environment than the people who live here," Burgum said in a statement. "But the 40-year-old NEPA process has become increasingly complex, cumbersome and time-consuming, resulting in unnecessary, multiyear delays and cost increases for key infrastructure projects, including highways, pipelines and critical flood protection."
Juli Kellner, a spokesperson for Canada-based Enbridge Inc., which operates the 1,097-mile crude oil pipeline running from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior, Wisc., said Enbridge does not expect the president's proposal to affect its operations in North Dakota.
"This is, however, important rule-making for future infrastructure projects," Kellner said. "We look forward to the opportunity to thoroughly review the proposal."
Kellner told the Herald that permits for the Line 3 project have been filed in North Dakota and has undergone nearly five years of regulatory and permitting review in Minnesota. The 350-mile segment in Minnesota and North Dakota is the final remaining section of the pipe to be upgraded with thicker steel and better coatings and welding technology.