President Donald Trump Thursday announced changes to a 50-year-old environmental law that he calls "broken and outdated," but that critics say will now give developers a green light to pollute.
Trump said the National Environmental Policy Act "ties up and bogs down" infrastructure projects by an "outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process."
The president alleges some projects take as long as 30 years to get built because of what he calls the environmental "regulatory nightmare."
"These endless delays waste money, keep projects from breaking ground, and deny jobs to our nation’s incredible workers," he said.
Shortens time for impact studies
The changes Trump proposes would exclude projects primarily funded by private companies, including oil and gas pipelines. It also cuts the time federal agencies are given to carry out environmental impact studies from four and a half years to two years.
The president also wants to exclude what the law says are the "cumulative" impact such projects would have on the environment from the approval process.
Some environmental groups say they will challenge Trump's order in court.
"Today’s action is nothing more than an attempt to write Donald Trump's climate denial into official government policy," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said. "Communities across the country are already feeling the effects of climate change. But rather than protect them, Trump is pulling out all the stops to silence their voices and further prop up his corporate polluter friends."
When a reporter asked Trump Thursday whether he still believes climate change is a hoax, the president said it is a real problem, but added that the U.S. has the cleanest air and water on Earth.
Court challenge expected
A court challenge from environmentalists could tie up Trump's proposal for the rest of his term.
Republican President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act into law in 1970 when the U.S. started becoming more and more aware of the impact of air and water pollution.
The law as published says it was written to "create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony."