President Donald Trump’s administration has announced a sweeping rewrite of the federal environmental protection laws that would roll back protections for the nation’s pipeline infrastructure and cut funding for a $1 billion project to dredge the country’s rivers.
The decision, which was made on Wednesday, comes after months of pressure from environmental groups that have accused the Trump administration of pushing forward with the Dakota Access Pipeline and other controversial projects without fully assessing the damage the projects would do.
Trump, in a statement on Thursday, announced the reclassification of the Dakota Pipeline and Northern Gateway pipelines as “high priority” projects that he said will ensure “our nation’s energy infrastructure is safe and reliable for future generations.”
The announcement comes on the heels of a November order by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to rewrite the Clean Water Act to exempt “anybody with a legitimate business interest” in a proposed project.
The move would also allow the pipeline industry to bypass environmental review process in many cases, making it easier for companies to begin building infrastructure without taking steps to mitigate its impacts.
Environmental groups, however, warn that the administration’s proposal would allow the Dakota and Northern pipelines to be built with little oversight or transparency, potentially opening the door to further harm to water resources and communities.
“It’s really a slap in the face to all of us who live on the water,” said Steve Wilt, executive director of the Friends of the Hudson River.
“The EPA is using this to try and cover their asses.”
Wilt said he hopes Trump will reconsider the decision.
“I think that the public will demand that the Trump Administration act now and put the public interests first,” he said.
Trump’s announcement is expected to come as a surprise to some environmental groups.
The Trump administration has already issued numerous proposed rule changes, many of which were opposed by environmental groups, and the White House has said it will consider the reauthorization of several other important environmental protections.
Trump has said that he will not rescind the Obama-era Clean Water Rule, for example, which requires oil and gas companies to treat their waste sites in a manner that prevents spills or pollution from leaking into rivers.
But the White Houses announcement that the EPA would be reclassifying the Dakota pipeline and Northern Pipeline as high priority projects was a significant change in tone for the administration, which has been in the middle of an aggressive push to undo regulations imposed under former President Barack Obama.
The president has made clear he does not want to address climate change as a top priority, and in April he ordered a review of the Clean Power Plan, a landmark regulation aimed at limiting carbon emissions from power plants.
Last week, Trump tweeted that he would sign an executive order repealing the Obama administration’s climate policy, but he has not yet released details on what action he would take.
The administration is also planning to issue a rule that would expand the number of federal agencies with jurisdiction over the water resources sector.
The Dakota Pipeline is the nations largest and most controversial of three pipelines that carry crude oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota to refineries in Illinois.
It is the second-largest pipeline project in the U.S. and is the most controversial because of its proximity to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, which is home to the largest Native American reservation in North America.
The pipeline is also one of the largest in the world, carrying more than 1.5 million barrels of crude oil daily.
Trump and his administration have repeatedly said they want to re-examine the decision, arguing that it was the result of a bureaucratic process that was not transparent and not reflective of the interests of the American people.
“There’s not enough information out there,” said Michael Brune, a former assistant attorney general who was an official at the EPA under former president Barack Obama who served under former Vice President Joe Biden.
“We need to look at that to make sure that we are getting a thorough look at this.”
The Dakota and Southern Pipelines are two of four pipelines that will pass through the Missouri River Delta, a tributary of the Missouri.
Both pipelines are owned by TransCanada Corp., a company that has been working to build a pipeline that would connect Canada’s tar sands oil sands in Alberta to the Gulf Coast.
The Keystone XL Pipeline is a major part of the U,S., effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and build a new, more resilient economy.
The Obama administration approved a $5.4 billion pipeline in 2016, and a new pipeline that has already begun construction is due to cross the Missouri in 2018.
In April, Trump ordered a major review of environmental rules and regulations, including those pertaining to pipelines, and issued an executive action to review the U.,S., Clean Power Plant Rule.
That order also directed the EPA to reclassify pipelines as high priorities, and ordered the agency to revise