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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

AAR endorses Trump administration's goal to speed up NEPA process


The Association of American Railroads (AAR) praised President Donald Trump's administration for its proposed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) revisions aimed at speeding up the environmental review process for major infrastructure projects.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued the notice of proposed rulemaking, which calls for modernizing NEPA. One proposed change would no longer require agencies to consider "cumulative" effects of infrastructure projects. Courts have interpreted that as meaning the study of how a project might contribute to the climate, such as by contributing to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, The Hill reported.

"The proposed rule seeks to reduce unnecessary paperwork and delays, and to promote better decision-making consistent with NEPA’s statutory requirements," according to a CEQ fact sheet.

AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ian Jefferies said streamlining the project permit process is long overdue.

"Railroads agree that more can and must be done to expedite routine maintenance and other critical construction projects without compromising important environmental protections," Jefferies said. "We look forward to continued conversations with our partners in government to advance the NEPA modernization process."

Signed into law in 1970, the NEPA requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions. The CEQ issued regulations for federal agencies to implement NEPA in 1978. CEQ has not comprehensively updated these regulations in over 40 years, and has made only one limited substantive amendment in 1986, according to the fact sheet.

CEQ is soliciting public comments on the proposed rule, which will be published today in the Federal Register. A pre-publication version is available here.

U.S. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also praised efforts to update NEPA.

"Streamlining the review of proposed roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure projects will save the taxpayers money while maintaining necessary protections for the environment, public safety, and human health," Graves said in a prepared statement.

However, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the draft regulations would "drastically weaken" the NEPA law.

"By directing federal agencies to disregard long-term and cumulative impacts of projects, this proposal takes a sledgehammer to decades of legal precedence and puts our communities at risk," Carper said. "It is like putting permanent blinders on, and ignoring reality when deciding whether to build a project."

Carper also said the 60-day comment period on the proposal is not enough time "to fully consider its broad, far-reaching implications."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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