narvikk/iStock(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration is moving to change a landmark environmental law that could limit how much climate change is considered in government projects, a move advocates say could make it harder for the public to register concerns about pipelines and other infrastructure projects. The National Environmental Policy Act sets guidelines for how every government agency makes decisions, mandating that the impact on the environment and public health be considered, while also setting up the procedures for the public to officially register concerns about a project. Environmental advocates say the act, known as NEPA, has been crucial for Americans — especially communities of color that are more frequently affected by pollution and contamination, to raise concerns and prompt changes when government projects in their area could influence them.The Trump administration argues that broadly evaluating the environmental impact takes too long and can result in unwieldy reports. The proposed change aims to speed up environmental reviews and could make it more difficult to consider a project’s impact on climate change, or how the project could be altered by the affects of climate change. “These documents were often hundreds and even thousands of pages long and given that the purpose of NEPA is to make an informed decision, when I asked our senior managers if they were reading these documents that were several thousands of pages long they said emphatically no, which does not serve the purpose of NEPA at all,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said on a call with reporters. The proposal would change the procedure of how the government considers the environmental impact of a project, but not change the substance of laws to protect the environment like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Other Trump administration proposals have moved to roll back or redefine the substance of clean water and clean air regulations. “Nothing in the proposal would eliminate or diminish the protections that Congress has enacted to safeguard the environment and the American people,” said Mary Neumayr, chair of the Council for Environmental Quality that oversees NEPA.The changes to the NEPA procedure would require a two-year time limit on environmental impact reviews, add a page limit to report and change the guidelines for what kinds of comments about environmental impacts will be considered for a given project. The change will specifically require that environmental impacts are “reasonably foreseeable” and will not require agencies to consider the cumulative environmental effects. Critics say the changes will allow the government to disregard climate change when considering projects like permits to mine and process fossil fuels, but officials said it will not exclude consideration of greenhouse gas emissions as an environmental impact. The change could also allow agencies to exempt more projects from environmental review if they determine the project is small or if similar projects have been given exemptions by other agencies.The law was passed in 1969 amid protests around the country known as the “Freeway Revolts,” when communities raised concerns about plans to demolish homes to construct the Interstate Highway System. Environmental groups and experts that work with the law say the changes proposed by the Trump administration could also make it more difficult for concerned citizens to comment on upcoming projects. “The law was built on decades of activism from people who wanted a say in decisions affecting their health, their lives, their communities, and their environment,” Stephen Schima, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice, said in a statement. “By stacking the deck for corporate polluters and eviscerating public participation, this administration is trashing that legacy. Without this law, the government will have an easier time letting dirty industry tear down trees, put up refineries next to children’s schools, and risk our health.” Schima added, “Worse still, this proposal will threaten to silence the voices of the very people government should be listening to — the people living on the front lines of the climate crisis.” Some projects supported by the Trump administration — like the Keystone XL natural gas pipeline — have faced legal obstacles after courts found the government didn’t complete a sufficient environmental analysis required under NEPA. A senior administration official said the proposed changes would not exempt Keystone XL or any other project from future environmental reviews.Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.