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'Huge Win' For Ranchers As Trump Targets Bedrock Environmental Law

Photo of the Keystone XL pipeline in Montana.
Nate Hegyi
The Trump administration's new rules could make it easier to construct projects like the Keystone XL pipeline in eastern Montana, pictured above.

Many ranchers are applauding President Donald Trump after he announced an overhaul of the nation’s bedrock environmental law on Thursday. 

The National Environmental Policy Act says federal agencies must take a hard look at environmental impacts before approving major projects, such as oil pipelines, coal mines, or renewing grazing permits on public lands. 

But industry groups have long argued that law is burdensome and needs streamlining. Now the Trump administration is answering those calls. 

Its proposed rules would essentially make it easier to build things like oil and gas pipelines. It would also mandate a faster timeline for environmental reviews on projects like timber sales or cattle grazing on public lands.

“These reforms are very exciting,” Jennifer Houston, president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said at the White House after Trump’s announcement. “They will streamline the process, reduce duplication, allow more local control, and let our cattlemen, our beef producers, go on back to do what they do best — and that’s raising high-quality beef to feed the world.”

But conservation group Center for Western Priorities says the Trump administration is weakening environmental protections and sticking its head in the sand when it comes to climate change.

“The National Environmental Policy Act is really our Magna Carta of our environmental laws,” said Jesse Prentice-Dunn, the group’s executive director. “What we saw today was the administration trying to take the enforcement of that [law] and run it through the shredder.” 

Still, Prentice-Dunn says the Trump administration is opening itself up to future legal challenges because the proposed rules don’t change the law itself — only the enforcement of it. 

“They have a really terrible record in the courts right now,” he said. “The courts are increasingly saying that you have to take climate change into account when leasing for oil and gas on public lands. This is only going to extend their losing streak further.”

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, praised the effort to reform NEPA, saying, “Reducing redundancies, enhancing coordination with states and tribes, clarifying ambiguous terms, and establishing time frames for the completion of paperwork is the 20/20 vision we needed.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado. Follow Nate Hegyi on Twitter @natehegyi.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
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