Opponents Crowded A Denver Hearing Over Federal Changes That Would Relax Environmental Reviews

Natural gas pipeline warning signs in Weld County November 2019.
Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
A natural gas pipeline warning sign in Weld County, November 2019.

Federal officials got an earful on proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act on Tuesday.

The act, known as NEPA, requires a major evaluation any time new infrastructure is built like dams and oil pipelines. The Trump administration wants to make such projects easier to approve, something that Gov. Jared Polis’ administration took issue with.

“This language appears to be surgically designed to eliminate consideration of climate impacts,” Colorado Energy Office executive director Will Toor said.

Denver hosted the only public hearing outside of Washington, D.C., on the proposed changes to the Act.

Under the proposed changes, federal law would limit in-depth environmental reviews to two years. Less detailed assessments would be allowed one year. The new process would not consider cumulative environmental impacts, something that currently covers climate change as well as air and water pollution.

Right now, the review process can take an average of 7.3 years to complete and span 645 pages, according to an analysis by the Council on Environmental Quality which oversees NEPA. Coal, oil and gas, and business officials like Ed Mortimer with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce cheered the changes.

“The investors can be lined up … but those plans can be mothballed for years and sometimes decades due to the due to the ever-thickening layer of process that is amassed on project applicants who seek federal approvals or permits under,” Mortimer said. “The Chamber fundamentally supports NEPA but believes it is critical for environmental protection and environmental growth that the review process is streamlined.”

The federal government will collect digital public comment through March 10.