Photo via State Rep. Greg Markkanen
Photo via State Rep. Greg Markkanen

State Sen. Greg Markkanen (R-Hancock) supports President Trump’s environmental rollbacks, which would create shortcuts for Michigan’s controversial oil pipeline — the same shortcuts that contributed to the worst ecological disaster in U.S. history.

MICHIGAN — President Donald Trump has taken aim at a cornerstone of America’s environmental policy, and a Michigan politician is supporting the move. 

Trump proposed drastically slashing the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) in an effort to avoid what he characterized as “endless delays” in authorizing certain major projects. 

The proposal would place limitations on the environmental impact statements required by the NEPA: They would have to be produced in less than two years and would have to be under a certain number of pages. Those reports would also not be allowed to take into consideration the indirect or cumulative effects of a project on the environment. 

Trump Wants to Limit Page Counts on This Critical Process

The projects Trump wants to fast-track, like pipelines and highways, contribute heavily to climate change, and the news of his proposal comes under a sweltering heat wave. Leaving out the indirect or cumulative effects of proposed projects ignores the problems created by climate change, including increasingly intense heat waves.

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“Most of the environmental challenges we face today are in fact cumulative and interconnected,” Jessica Wentz and Michael Burger of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School wrote in January. “Climate change is a prime example. To ignore this reality is not only irrational — it is also detrimental to the public interest and a flagrant violation of NEPA’s policy … The proposed revisions represent a major step in the wrong direction.”

Making such an involved assessment is a long process. It takes an average of four years and more than 500 pages to explore the full environmental impact of a proposal, according to the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). The work that goes into impact statements has only increased in recent years as the field of climate science has developed. 

The purpose of the environmental impact statement is to outline not just precautions to ensure minimal harm to nature, but to research all possible outcomes for every scenario involving a project. Limiting the scope of that process would necessitate limiting the quality of the findings. 

 That, in turn, would risk local air and water quality as well as potentially disrupt wildlife — the things impact statements are supposed to warn about. For instance, the infamous Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 came about in part due to the platform shortcutting the environmental assessment process. Deepwater Horizon became the most calamitous environmental disaster in American history. 

This June 2020 photo, shot from a television screen provided by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy shows damage to anchor support EP-17-1 on the east leg of the Enbridge Line 5 pipeline within the Straits of Mackinac in Michigan. (Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy via AP)

Michigan’s Deepwater Horizon?

Though highly controversial, the proposal has been praised by Michigan state Rep. Greg Markkanen (R-Hancock).

“NEPA’s application has become increasingly more nonsensical, costly, and inefficient — oftentimes delaying critical infrastructure projects for years while burying state and federal agencies, project applicants, and Americans seeking permits in unnecessary paperwork,” he said. “Not only would these reforms help keep projects on schedule, they would clear the way for badly needed improvements to our energy infrastructure — projects like the Line 5 tunnel.”

Markkanen has championed the Line 5 tunnel project, which would support the pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac, in spite of courts recently shutting that pipeline down over major infrastructural failure. 

GET THE FULL STORY: Why the Republican Push for a Pipeline Under the Straits of Mackinac Is Controversial

“The Trump administration and the CEQ have proposed some practical reforms that will help streamline the environmental review process to make it more predictable and efficient,” said Markkanen.

The environmental impact of pipelines in particular is a major issue, as courts have been taking actions aimed at halting pipeline operations that endanger waterways. In particular, a federal court in Fargo, North Dakota, found Monday that the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline had to stop operation while a full environmental impact statement was conducted. Legal news site JD Supra characterized this as part of a larger trend in courts protecting the environment. 

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A Larger Battle to Protect the Environment

This sets Trump’s proposal to severely limit environmental impact statements up for a battle in court, explains Yale Climate Connections’ Bruce Lieberman. Lieberman notes that Trump’s ire toward the NEPA stems from his time as a real estate developer, and undercutting it has been a core policy of his presidency. 

The proposal also comes as part of a larger slate of environmental rollbacks Trump has pursued during the pandemic.

“It’s been quite an insult to the American people that [the] Trump Administration has been ruthlessly rolling back pollution standards during this pandemic,” Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, told The ’Gander. “To have these public health and air pollution rollbacks continue even in the midst of this pandemic feels pretty cruel to me.”