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Trump watered down environmental laws after BP lobbying, letters reveal

Ben Chapman

BP successfully lobbied the Trump administration to dilute a key US environmental law, making it easier to build oil and gas projects with fewer checks on how they affect the climate.

After BP’s lobbying efforts, Donald Trump announced sweeping changes this month to America’s National Environmental Policy Act (Nepa).

The reforms unveiled by Mr Trump significantly narrow the protections provided by Nepa and could allow oil pipelines, roads and other projects to move forward with far less federal review than currently exists.

Letters obtained by Unearthed, Greenpeace’s investigations unit, show that BP pushed the White House in August 2018 to reform Nepa.

BP and the American Petroleum Institute (API), oil and gas industry trade association, sought reforms that drastically reduce the range of fossil fuel projects that come under Nepa’s scope and the level of scrutiny they are subject to.

Under the watered-down rules, federal agencies would not need to factor in the “cumulative impacts” of a project, which could include its affect on climate change.

This would make it easier for fossil fuel projects to be approved. It would also make it harder to mount a legal challenge to halt infrastructure projects that are associated with high levels of emissions.

A number of the changes BP lobbied for have now been adopted by the US president.

In the letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, which coordinates federal environmental efforts in the US, BP endorsed and elaborated upon API’s proposals to “modernise” the process for reviewing and approving new infrastructure projects. BP wrote that the changes would “directly benefit BP’s operations in the US”.

Fossil fuel companies and other critics of Nepa have grown frustrated in recent years at delays to infrastructure projects such as the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Under Nepa, the US federal government must assess the environmental impacts of a project. Legal challenges can be brought where the effects have not been adequately considered.

Under the changes backed by BP and President Trump, “downstream” emissions resulting from a project would not have to be considered in the assessment.

For example, if a company was seeking to extract oil in a new field, the emissions resulting from people burning that oil would be downstream and therefore not considered when assessing the environmental impact of the oilfield.

Mel Evans, senior oil campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “BP knows its business is causing our climate emergency, so it will do all it can to avoid scrutiny from campaigners and regulation from governments.

“The oil industry insists it has a right to dictate how the world fights the climate emergency, and how quickly change happens. But this shows that for all their lip service to the energy transition, BP and the rest of the sector are focusing their efforts on blocking real action to cut emissions and stabilise our climate.”

A spokesperson for BP said the company’s position on Nepa had been “misconstrued” by Greenpeace.

“Neither BP nor API advocated to exclude all indirect greenhouse gas impacts from Nepa analysis. In fact, BP believes the Nepa analysis should include all direct and many indirect impacts,” said the spokesperson.

“BP will continue to advocate for changes through the rulemaking process, but only in a manner that is consistent with our strong support for the Paris ambitions.”

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