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Local Environmental Group Says Weakened Federal Regulations Mean Less Oversight And Review

Jul 27, 2020

The head of Carbondale-based Wilderness Workshop said changes to the National Environmental Policy Act will mean leave the public mean "less analysis, shorter timelines, fewer opportunities for the public to voice their concerns."
Credit Alex Hager / Aspen Public Radio

Earlier this month, the Trump administration weakened the National Environmental Policy Act, a 50-year-old rule meant to limit the environmental impact of large development. Trump says rolling back the regulations will eliminate “red tape” and speed up infrastructure projects, but opponents of the move say it paves the way for big industry to get away with development that could harm the environment.

“Unfortunately the real beneficiaries of these changes are polluting industries that will benefit from less oversight and less review of the impacts,” said Will Roush, executive director of Wilderness Workshop, a Carbondale-based environmental watchdog.

Recent changes to how the act, often referred to as NEPA, is applied will limit the amount of public comment in the permitting process for projects with a potential environmental impact.

Roush said this could most harshly afflict minority and low-income communities, whose neighborhoods have historically played host to “highways, refineries, or incinerators” with disproportionate frequency.

“With less analysis, with shorter timelines, with fewer opportunities for the public to voice their concerns, it just means that essentially a tool that those communities have used to speak out against projects that would be harmful to their health is being greatly reduced,” Roush said.

Locally, a number of projects have been regulated by NEPA rules. A release from Wilderness Workshop said the act “positively influenced issues like the Thompson Divide, the Hunter-Smuggler Cooperative Plan (recreation and prescribed burn for Hunter Creek) and a Fryingpan timber sale, among others.”

Aspen Skiing Company signed on to a letter from the National Ski Areas Association objecting to the changes in March. 

While developments like expansions of on-mountain infrastructure can be regulated by NEPA, Roush said resorts are inclined to oppose the weakening of the act because it aims to curtail long-term contributions to climate change.