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Environmental Groups Worry Trump's Regulatory Changes Limit Public Say On Projects

Workers are grading the median on the Monroe Expressway north of Monroe.
David Boraks
Workers are grading the median on the Monroe Expressway north of Monroe.

North Carolina environmental groups say they’re concerned by changes the Trump administration is making to one of the country’s cornerstone environmental laws. 

The Trump administration has finalized changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. The 50-year-old environmental law requires federal agencies to look at how taxpayer-funded projects would impact the environment.

Catawba Riverkeeper Brandon Jones said the changes would mean regulators don’t have to take into account a project’s long-term environmental impacts, such as air or water pollution.

"If you’ve got a little bit of this toxin, a little bit of this toxin, a little bit of another one, none of those might trip the individual thresholds, but together that cumulative impact would be enough that it would impact the people in that area," Jones said.

June Blotnik of Clean Air Carolina says the changes would narrow the types of public comments residents could submit. The categories of projects that would have to accept public comment would also change.

"It’s like the bedrock of environmentalism, is to have the law of the land allow for the public to understand what the environmental impacts are going to be, and have the right to make public comments about it," Blotnik said.

NEPA’s requirements have applied to a number of highway projects in the Charlotte area, including the Monroe Expressway and the proposed Garden Parkway. The recently canceled Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have run through eastern North Carolina, was delayed for years due to legal challenges around its environmental impact. President Trump said Wednesday the changes would streamline the review process and allow projects to start faster.

Sixteen environmental groups planned to sue the Trump administration over the rule changes. The changes are not expected to go into effect this year due to those lawsuits.

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Michael Falero is a radio reporter, currently covering voting and the 2020 election. He previously covered environment and energy for WFAE. Before joining WFAE in 2019, Michael worked as a producer for a number of local news podcasts based in Charlotte and Boston. He's a graduate of the Transom Story Workshop intensive on Cape Cod and UNC Chapel Hill.