By Shaun Boyd

DENVER (CBS4) – Proposed changes to a landmark environmental law are pitting business groups against environmentalists. The Trump Administration is holding two public hearings on the new rules. One of those hearings took place in Denver.

(credit: CBS)

At issue is the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The law requires federal agencies to determine the environmental impact of infrastructure projects including roads, reservoirs, bridges, pipelines and water projects. Right now, it can take more than a decade for an environmental impact study, in part due to lawsuits. The new rules would limit lawsuits and require completion of studies within two years.

“I’m a Democrat. I’m an environmentalist, but this thing has to be streamlined,” said Miller Hudson. He’s lead the push for a high-speed monorail along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor for 20 years.

“It has been constant study. Nearly $100 million has been spent on studying.”

Hudson says it’s an example of why NEPA needs updating.

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State Rep. Matt Soper says the I-70 reconstruction project — named Central 70 — is another example. Its environmental impact study took 13 years, due in part to multiple lawsuits. He says compliance with NEPA makes up 20% of the costs of infrastructure projects.

“It’s death by a thousand cuts,” Soper said.

Environmental groups are fighting the changes that they say are meant to limit public input.

“What the Trump Administration is trying to do is to take the public and the environment out of federal decision making and just let corporations and polluters run the show and police themselves,” Rebecca Sobel, a spokeswoman with Earth Guardians, said.

“I think we’re seeing some scare tactics going on,” said Ed Mortimer with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

He says says the changes don’t impact the law, rather the way it’s implemented.

(credit: CBS)

“We have to be environmentally sensitive, but we have to figure out a timely way to get projects through the system.”

The Trump Administration is also proposing eliminating analysis of the cumulative environmental impacts of a project or its potential impact on climate change.

Sobel says that’s putting polluters above people.

“We’re here to protect everyone’s voices, and including the voiceless — the animals that aren’t here to give public testimony, the Earth that is literally on fire.”

Even if the proposed changes are approved, they will almost certainly face a court challenge.

Shaun Boyd

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