A bedrock federal law designed to protect the environment and empower local communities is being weaponized to block progress on climate change, infrastructure and housing. The battle over New York City’s landmark congestion price plan is the latest example.

Last month, New Jersey sued to block the plan, citing the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970 (NEPA). The law requires federal agencies to give a detailed assessment of the environmental impact before approving projects that could significantly alter the environmental landscape.

In the United States, conservatives have pushed to weaken environmental regulations for years. But now, more and more Democrats in Congress and left-leaning researchers are embracing the idea of streamlining the review process. They say they want to protect the environment, but that the process needs to be modernized for the climate-change era and government isn’t acting fast enough.

“Once you take a broader climate change approach, environmental review becomes a bad tool to helping the environment,” said Howard Slatkin, executive director at Citizens Housing and Planning Council, a progressive nonprofit research and education organization in New York City. “It punishes all of the things that smart growth offers,” he said, including density, housing development and public transit. “A tool that was built to stop the bulldozing of trees is getting in the way of our climate future,” he said.

Read more in CNN Business.

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