Trump administration readies draft plan to speed environmental permitting

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks prior to presenting the Public Safety Medals of Valor to officers in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., May 22, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(Reuters) - The Trump administration will complete a draft proposal to streamline environmental permitting for big infrastructure projects by next month, an administration official said on Wednesday, marking a key step in its controversial effort to cut red tape for industry over the objections of conservationists.

Ted Boling, associate director for the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) at the White House Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), said the draft rule to reform NEPA would be sent to the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs for review in June, but did not disclose what changes the proposal would include.

NEPA, enacted in 1970, requires comprehensive studies be conducted into the potential environmental impacts of big proposed projects like pipelines and highways before they can proceed.

“This is a significant undertaking and I expect we will hold to a fairly ambitious schedule moving through the OIRA process,” Boling told a group of NEPA consultants at the National Association of Environmental Professionals conference in Baltimore on Wednesday.

President Donald Trump kickstarted the effort to reform the bedrock environmental law for the first time in 40 years with an executive order in 2017, saying the federal environmental review process for major projects was overly complex and had led to unnecessary delays. A CEQ study of 1,161 Environmental Impacts Statements (EISs) conducted for projects since 2010 found that the average completion time was 4.5 years.

The 2017 order required CEQ to carry out two main tasks: require that one federal agency, instead of multiple agencies, take the lead on a NEPA review; and set a goal of completing the process within a two-year period.

Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Leslie Adler