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Opponents fault plan to cut environmental reviews

Shared from the 2/26/2020 The Denver Post eEdition By Ellen Knickmeyer The Associated Press


WASHINGTON» Describing windows rattled by industrial blasts and windowsills covered in toxic ash, an African-American resident of Texas’ oil hub joined Democratic lawmakers, state officials and others Tuesday in urging President Donald Trump’s administration to drop a proposed rollback that they said would silence disadvantaged communities battling big polluters.

The objections came at the last of two hearings — the first was in Denver — by the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality on its proposal to cut back environmental reviews and restrict public comment on new highways, pipelines and other projects under the 1970 landmark National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

The Trump administration, which has expressed frustration at environmental objections that it says are unnecessarily slowing approval for interstate oil and gas pipelines and other big projects, is proposing restricting the timelines for environmental reviews and public comment. Other changes would explicitly allow businesses a role in crafting the environmental assessments of their projects and allow federal officials to disregard a project’s role in cumulative effects, such as climate change.

Many speaking at the Washington hearing in an Interior Department auditorium were African-American, Latino and tribal activists from communities dealing with pollution from oil refineries, chemical plants, government facilities and other sources. They credited the half-century-old NEPA with giving poor communities without much political or economic clout a platform to negotiate with government regulators and big industries. Such communities historically are disproportionately exposed to air pollution and other health hazards.

Hilton Kelley, a restaurant owner in Port Arthur, Texas, east of Houston, described neighborhood teens so accustomed to explosions and plant leaks in Texas’ industrial hub that they continued to play basketball during dangerous chemical releases.

Kelley described his windows shaking from one of at least six major industrial explosions or other accidents in his part of south Texas over the past year.

“Many people are still trying to come back from those explosions,” Kelley told those at the hearing. “When you’re talking about weakening NEPA and expediting a process, this is what happens. Don’t lessen the regulation. Don’t silence our voices.”



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