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Critics Blast Proposed Changes To The National Environmental Policy Act

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

An environmental law that is obscure to many Americans became a point of heated debate between business and environmental groups in Denver yesterday. The Trump administration held the first of two hearings on proposed changes. Grace Hood of Colorado Public Radio reports.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: The 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, requires a major evaluation every time new infrastructure like highways, dams and oil pipelines get built. Reviews can average seven years to complete. Trump administration officials and industry advocates like Ed Mortimer with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce say the process needs to be streamlined.

ED MORTIMER: The investors can be lined up, but those plans may be mothballed for years and sometimes decades due to the ever-thickening layer of process that is amassed on project applicants who seek federal approvals or permits under NEPA.

HOOD: The Trump administration would limit in-depth environmental reviews to just two years. Analysis of cumulative or indirect effects would no longer be required. That would limit the government's ability to evaluate climate change impacts of projects. And it concerns third-generation Nebraska rancher and farmer Jeanne Crumly, who lives along the path of the Keystone XL pipeline.

JEANNE CRUMLY: We take seriously that 50 years from now when our grandchildren are running this very farm, KXL would have an abandoned, toxic, leaky, 36-inch pipeline in our field, leaving our grandson with all liability.

HOOD: The proposed changes would allow private companies to write the most complicated reviews themselves under federal supervision, and public comment periods would be moved to earlier in the process, something environmentalists worry would limit participation. With only about 100 speaking slots available in Denver, many spoke outside the hearing. Nearby, about 100 environmentalists gathered around a small stage in a parking lot, people like Denver metro resident Maryl Blackwell (ph).

MARYL BLACKWELL: One hundred slots for something so critical is not really enough for public comment. That's why we're here.

HOOD: A second hearing on the Trump administration's proposal to reform the National Environmental Policy Act will be held in Washington, D.C., in two weeks. Digital comments are being taken through March 10. Environmental groups are expected to challenge any final changes in court. For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF HOMEBODY'S "RASPBERRY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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