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Jun 2020
08
June 08, 2020

President Trump Issues Executive Order Curtailing National Environmental Policy Act and Endangered Species Act Reviews

On June 4, 2020, President Trump issued an executive order directing the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Transportation and the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to identify infrastructure projects and projects on federal lands that can be moved forward and completed on an expedited basis. The order, citing a national emergency related to economic impacts resulting from the COVID-19 crisis, requires the heads of these agencies to submit a list of such projects to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) within 30 days, and continue to report to OMB on progress every 30 days thereafter. The order could have major impacts on infrastructure projects as well as mining and mineral exploration activities on federal lands, including expedited decisions on prospecting permits, mineral leases and reviews of proposed mining operations. 

The order also includes a more sweeping directive to the heads of all agencies to identify projects where reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) can be waived or curtailed on an emergency basis, and/or subject to other exemptions under these acts, and specifically directs the Army Corps of Engineers to expedite permits on an emergency basis for programs it administers under the Clean Water Act and Rivers and Harbors Act. This aspect of the order could prove helpful to property owners along the lakeshore seeking federal approvals for seawalls and other structures needed to combat rising lake levels. 

Importantly, the order does not specifically address reviews and consultations required for federal projects subject to the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). In many cases, NHPA reviews go hand in hand with NEPA reviews, and can be quite complex and time consuming in their own right. The order does contain a general directive to all agencies to determine ways in which to expedite permitting and approvals under all statutes they administer and are subject to, although it is unclear how this would play out under NHPA. 

For questions regarding the new executive order or any other resources, energy or environment matter, please contact Dennis Donohue, Timothy Horner, Gaëtan Gerville-Réache or your Resources, Energy and Environment Practice Group attorney.

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