For Immediate Release, June 8, 2020

Contact:

Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121, bhartl@biologicaldiversity.org

Documents Sought on Industry Giveaways in Trump Order ‘Expediting’ Fossil Fuel Project Approvals

WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity requested public records today from dozens of agencies about how they’re implementing President Trump’s recent executive order waiving environmental laws to fast-track oil and gas drilling, fossil fuel pipelines like Keystone XL and other projects across the country.

Thursday’s executive order bypasses the Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act. It requires every agency to use emergency authority to identify projects to approve within 30 days, regardless of potential harm to people or the environment.

“Trump is cruelly exploiting a pandemic so he can gut bedrock environmental protections in every corner of this country,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center. “Communities of color are being hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because they’re disproportionately harmed by pollution. It’s heartless to put our most vulnerable citizens at even greater risk.”

In March the Trump administration suspended enforcement of environmental laws, after requests from polluters, and blamed the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent study shows that exposure to even small increases in fine particulate matter is associated with an 8% greater chance of dying from COVID-19.

The Center is seeking public records under the Freedom of Information Act from every federal agency involved in the approval of infrastructure projects anywhere in the country. These requests are warranted because under existing law, when an agency invokes emergency powers, there is no public comment process or even notification to the public about what the agency is doing.

Federal agencies are given emergency powers to respond quickly to specific events, such as natural disasters. In the 50 years since the passage of the National Environmental Policy Act, this emergency power has been invoked 47 times.

Likewise a project can be approved rapidly under the Endangered Species Act, such as when the Federal Emergency Management Agency requested permission to quickly build field hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients. It is illegal to force all federal agencies to rush through projects that have no connection to the underlying emergency.

“Federal agencies can’t act like tyrants. They’re accountable to the people,” said Hartl. “We’ll uncover every instance where the Trump administration abuses its power. We’ll challenge every single time polluters hit the jackpot and public health suffers because of this obviously illegal executive order.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.