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Interior Department Plan For Streamlining Environmental Reviews Gets Mixed Response

U.S. Bureau of Land Management
A years-long discussion about sage grouse habitat is kind of decision that's limited under an April 27 directive from the U.S. Interior Department. Some say streamlined reviews are overdue. Others say decisions on public lands will suffer.

The Trump administration’s plans to cut red tape on environmental projects is getting predictably mixed reviews.

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, requires government agencies to minimize the harm federal projects have on the land, air, water and people. But critics argue environmental groups have turned the law into a weapon against development.

“NEPA has become this stumbling block when it was originally intended by Congress to aid in decision making,” said Kathleen Sgamma, who leads the oil and gas trade group, the Western Energy Alliance.

“It’s not just oil and projects but highways and transmission lines — NEPA can be used to stop projects through paralysis by analysis.”

NEPA critics like Sgamma are welcoming the latest Interior Department directive. It limits the Bureau of Reclamation, the National Park Service and other Interior agencies to 150 pages and one year to decide on all but the most complex projects.

“Where’s the time to meet to the public, talk to the public, evaluate input and respond?” said Nada Culver, a lawyer with the Wilderness Society.

The tight deadlines won’t allow sufficient analysis or time for public input, NEPA supporters said.

“The Trump administration is doing everything it can to sidestep that law and to cut the public out of decisions about the public’s land,” said Taylor McKinnon, who follows public lands and energy for the Center for Biological Diversity.

The new standards go into effect later this month.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

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