In less than three years, President Donald Trump’s administration — aided and abetted by Wyoming’s congressional delegation and state leaders —  has rolled back 58 environmental rules and regulations and has another 37 such changes on the drawing board. 

That tally is according to a New York Times analysis. These “gifts” to the fossil fuels industry and other polluters, according to a report by the New York University Law School, could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and cause thousands of deaths from poor air quality every year.

But Trump saved his biggest present to industry to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act.

He’s gutted it.

Officially, it hasn’t happened yet. We’re in the midst of a 60-day comment period for the plan, which was announced earlier this month by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which oversees NEPA. There will also be two public hearings before the rule is finalized, which is expected sometime in the fall.

As the clock ticks, one thing is clear: The protection of the nation’s land, air and water that began during former President Richard Nixon’s administration is under a tremendous assault. Fortunately, even if a portion of the NEPA changes Trump envisions are enacted, a landslide of lawsuits from environmental groups is expected to follow.

Still, the audacity of the council’s proposal is startling. It would greatly diminish the number of projects that require in-depth environmental review. In too many instances industry will no longer have to inform the public about the likely impacts of proposed pipelines, power plants, highways, oil and gas drilling, mining and other developments.

It’s the ultimate golden anniversary gift: Trump is handing those with the gold unfettered control over our public resources — our land, our water, our air, our climate — and removing our ability to have any say in the matter.

Major federal projects would have a two-year deadline for environmental impact statements to be completed under NEPA, and smaller ones that require less-stringent environmental assessments would be given half that time. Currently there are no deadlines for either.  

The most outrageous of all the council’s changes is future reviews would no longer have to consider a project’s vulnerability to climate change or its impact on global warming. This as natural disasters increasingly wreak havoc throughout the world.

That is absolutely insane, but consistent with Trump’s continued disregard of climate science, which he labels as a hoax. Could someone please retweet him a photo of the wildfires now raging in Australia?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reports that in the past decade, the U.S. experienced 119 climate and weather disasters with total losses exceeding $800 billion. The number of billion-dollar disasters has doubled compared to the previous decade.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming Trump or any other president for the weather. But if his undoing of NEPA and other environmental laws is allowed to stand, it will be one of the most grievous mistakes by a world leader in history.

I’m particularly dismayed at Wyoming officials’ reaction to the proposed NEPA changes, which consist of swipes at anyone brave and ambitious enough to combat climate change.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) applauded Trump’s decision in a statement that said “burdensome NEPA requirements … have too long thwarted energy development and critical infrastructure projects in Wyoming.” In classic bit of us-versus-them wedge politics she said that those pesky federal rules and regulations “have been abused by far-left environmental extremists.”

Gov. Mark Gordon released a statement that paid lip service to Wyoming’s commitment to environmental protections, calling NEPA “an important policy tool to ensure proper consideration of the environmental effects of proposed major federal action.”

Then the governor proceeded to denigrate the law. NEPA “is not a platform to engage in speculative fancy, nor should it be seen as a convenient mechanism to obstruct development,” he said.

Isn’t that precisely what the law is designed to do: anticipate a project’s impact and, when that impact is unacceptable, obstruct it? 

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The CEQ claims the average environmental impact statement takes 4.5 years, and some reviews have taken up to a decade. Environmental groups challenge those figures, though, noting that corporations’ noncompliance with NEPA is often to blame for the delays.

At heart, this NEPA slaughter is in keeping with the administration’s aversion to all forms of accountability and oversight. Of course, independent courts, strong legislative checks and genuine public participation are anathema to any authoritarian regime, Trump’s included. This move continues the persistent erosion of all such pesky hurdles.   

Last year, for example, a U.S. District Court in Montana ruled that the Bureau of Land Management  acted “arbitrarily and capriciously” when it leased vast tracts of federal land in the Powder River Basin for mineral development without sufficiently accounting for greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental damage. The judge ordered the agency’s Buffalo field office to conduct another environmental analysis. By changing the requirements of what must be considered, the administration is effectively defanging such judicial watchdogs.

The Powder River Basin case is a prime example of how a federal agency tried to follow the president’s lead and ignore federal law. They got caught. So now the administration is trying to rewrite the law. 

Fortunately, conservation groups are continuing their legal fight, so the BLM’s misguided action in the basin will likely not take effect for years, if at all. Likewise, the proposed NEPA massacre is sure to be tangled in litigation until well past the 2020 election. In other words, we have an opportunity to have our say on the matter at the ballot box.

Here’s a welcome bit of sanity, courtesy of one of those “far-left extremists” that Cheney loves to denounce: 

“[The NEPA proposal] is the ultimate silencing of science and facts in our policymaking around infrastructure,” Christy Goldfuss, former Environmental Quality Council chairman under President Barack Obama, told Mother Jones. “We will now be building infrastructure with a blindfold at a time when we know extreme weather is just getting more and more extreme.”

I fervently hope that a future administration will undo all the environmental damage the current one has already managed to inflict — particularly to Wyoming’s beautiful, priceless portion of the planet.

Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. I wished the purveyors of “the sky is falling” related to Trump’s actions would acknowledge that he is doing exactly what he was elected to do…by THE PEOPLE. For too long, the pendulum had swung too far the other way and the people pushed back against extreme government overreach and bureaucracy that hinders even responsible development of our natural resources.
    Don’t blame Trump for acting on his environmental policies. If you must spout hyperbole and rage about fossil fuels and other “polluters”, place blame on the people that elected him. And in so doing, be honest with yourself and ask why President Trump’s message resonated with most Americans. Its not that they want to see the environment destroyed and its not because we are uninformed.

    1. It is inaccurate to say that Trump’s message resonated with most Americans. It bears repeating: Of the 138 million votes cast, Hillary Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump. It would be more accurate to say that, while more Americans agreed with Clinton’s message, the Electoral College gave the presidency to a candidate whose message resonated with fewer people.

      1. Very true. The wonderful thing about the electoral college is that it provides the needed balance for us folks that live in the sparsely populated states like ours. Coincidentally, or maybe not, also where the majority of federal land and minerals reside. Brilliant.

        The bottom line is Trump was elected because of his message. The point is don’t overly criticize him or Wyoming’s elected delegation for carrying out what they were elected to do. As the author pointed out, our say will be at the ballot box.

  2. Love Kerry’s spot on reporting and keeping these pertinent issues front and center. However, it is very frustrating that our delegation chooses to support their biggest donors and the Republican mantra rather than the health and welfare of our people and the environment. Regretfully, I also don’t see that ever changing in Wyoming because the majority of our populace fails to be informed and just votes party line. So keep at it WYOFile and Kerry Drake, your news is reaching us….well, those of us that want to be informed.