Trump Takes Moment of National Crisis to Give Polluters an Unprecedented Pass

Amid widespread racist violence and a deadly pandemic, the president has chosen to sidestep bedrock environmental laws that protect the environment and public health.

Flames from a refinery on the outskirts of Philadelphia

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Declaring an “economic emergency,” President Trump signed an unprecedented executive order today that allows industry to skirt foundational environmental laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act, in order to rubber-stamp polluting projects.

“Americans are crying out for leadership to confront racist violence and stop the spread of a deadly pandemic,” says NRDC president Gina McCarthy. “This administration is not only ignoring those cries—but piling on the burden.”

The order will allow industry to bypass the review requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one of the country’s bedrock environmental laws that ensures robust involvement from the communities most directly impacted by proposed projects, such as pipelines and power plants. NEPA, which has already been under attack by the Trump administration, mandates a thorough, transparent, science-based assessment into the environmental and public health impacts of those projects.

“These reviews are required by law to protect people from industries that can harm our health and our communities,” McCarthy says. “Getting rid of them will hit those who live closest to polluting facilities and highways the hardest—in many of the same communities already suffering the most from the national emergencies at hand.”

The executive order also encourages agencies to ignore the impacts of projects on imperiled species currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, which could have catastrophic consequences for wildlife already on the brink

The move is just the latest by the Trump administration to permanently halt critical protections during the COVID-19 pandemic. In May, Trump instructed agencies to roll back or stop enforcing a wide range of public health and environmental safeguards. And in April, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told polluters they no longer had to monitor or report their emissions, which NRDC is now fighting in court.

Recent research shows long-term exposure to air pollution—which causes disease and weakens the respiratory system’s ability to fight infections—is associated with significantly higher death rates from COVID-19 in the United States.

“Abusing emergency powers to deep-six necessary environmental reviews is utterly senseless,” McCarthy says. “We will not let this stand.”

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