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City Desk

Trump administration proposals could gut environmental law


Big Sky Connection

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Eric Tegethoff


February 11, 2020
HELENA, MT -- Conservation groups fear changes to a bedrock environmental law could dramatically roll back protections for local habitats across the country.


The Trump administration has opened public comment on its revisions to the National Environmental Protection Act, a law put in place under President Richard Nixon that opens up federal projects such as highways, bridges and pipelines to public review.


Marcia Brownlee is program director at the National Wildlife Federation's Artemis program, a sportswomen's conservation initiative. She said one of the most concerning changes would eliminate references to the indirect effects of projects.


"As a sportswoman, that is particularly important to me because it means that it doesn't take into consideration potential downstream water pollution and how that could impact the wildlife downstream from a project," Brownlee said.


The proposal also would narrow the projects that need to be reviewed under NEPA, limit the number of public comments accepted and allow cumulative effects, such as climate-change impact, to be ignored. The Trump administration says the current NEPA process is burdensome and slows down crucial work on the country's infrastructure.


Brownlee said NEPA came in handy during a Montana highway construction project near Glacier National Park in the 1990s. Public comment from local residents helped project managers realize the proposed highway expansion would endanger more wildlife than the road already was. As a result, 41 wildlife crossing structures were put in place, as well as other safety measures for drivers.


Brownlee said the NEPA process put alternatives from locals on the table.


"That highway project has become a model for other construction projects near migration corridors across the country," she said. "And it really illustrates very effectively how important that local knowledge of what that area is used for can be."


The White House's Council for Environmental Quality will hold a public meeting on the changes today in Denver. A second meeting will be held on February 25 in Washington, D.C. The public can comment on the proposal online until March 10.

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