Skip to main content
What You Should Know

The Trump Administration Wants to Undo the People’s Environmental Law

Learn how the National Environmental Policy Act helps communities protect themselves from dangerous, rushed or poorly planned federal projects — and join us in standing up to defend it.
What You Should Know

The Trump Administration Wants to Undo the People’s Environmental Law

Learn how the National Environmental Policy Act helps communities protect themselves from dangerous, rushed or poorly planned federal projects — and join us in standing up to defend it.
Navajo community leader Daniel Tso speaks out against fracking at a Bureau of Land Management meeting that was required under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA. NEPA gives communities a chance to speak out against projects that will impact them.
Steven St. John for Earthjustice
Navajo community leader Daniel Tso speaks out against fracking at a Bureau of Land Management meeting that was required under the National Environmental Policy Act. The law gives communities a chance to speak out against projects that will impact them.

Update, 1/9/20: The Trump administration announced a proposal that would be devastating to the basic public protections provided by the National Environmental Policy Act. Learn about today's attack on the people’s environmental law.

When the government wants to build a toxic waste incinerator in your neighborhood, run a dangerous pipeline past your child’s school, or put a massive, costly freeway on top of a wetland, a federal law gives you the right to find out and fight back.

That law is the National Environmental Policy Act. And now, the Trump administration has finalized a proposal to gut NEPA.

Earthjustice will not stand by while communities’ voices are silenced and their safeguards overturned. Alongside a nationwide coalition of groups, we are challenging this polluter power grab in court.

Watch how NEPA enabled residents of Arecibo to uncover the truth behind a waste incinerator project.

What Does the Law Say?

NEPA, the nation’s oldest environmental law, has a simple mandate with a major impact. It ensures the federal government informs and engages the public it serves. The three basic principles of NEPA are:

1. Transparency

When the federal government wants to build or fund a project like a highway, port, dam or prison, it must first disclose its plans to the public. NEPA guarantees that the public is informed of these plans because, after all, the public will have to live with the project’s consequences.

2. Informed Decision-Making

As the federal government prepares to build or fund a project, it must conduct a detailed study of:
  • how the project will be built
  • the consequences of the project (good or bad) for local communities
  • alternative ways to develop the project that still meet the government’s needs but better protect people and the  environment
  • measures that can be taken to lessen any harmful impacts of the project

3. Giving the Public a Voice

Before a project is started and throughout its development, the federal government must ask the public—including local communities—to voice concerns. They must also ask for local expertise regarding the project. This is arguably the most important pillar of NEPA; it draws on our democratic values to ensure that projects are undertaken with the benefit of our communities in mind. Public input leads to better developed projects with greater consensus and protections for our health and environment.

What Has NEPA Achieved?

Since Congress passed NEPA in 1970, the law has saved lives, preserved community integrity, protected endangered species and public land and saved billions of dollars, too.
Over the years, NEPA has often been the first and last line of defense against government mismanagement and industry abuse. NEPA success stories can be found across the nation. Here are just a few examples:
  • After an old steel mill closed in Atlanta, public input collected through the NEPA process helped turn 138 acres of contaminated land into a safe place to work and live.
  • A federal judge in Alaska sent the U.S. Forest Service back to the drawing board with a plan to log centuries-old trees across 1.8 million acres of Tongass National Forest, ruling that local communities had not had a fair chance to weigh in on the proposal.
  • NEPA helped the state of Michigan save $1.5 billion when an analysis revealed that improving an existing highway—rather than constructing a massive, four-lane freeway—would save money and prevent the single largest loss of wetlands in the state to date.
  • Developers canceled plans to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline—which would have carried fracked gas across the Appalachian Trail and through 600 miles of forest and farmlands—underscoring the importance of NEPA.
  • For six years, Arecibo residents have used NEPA to halt a waste-to-energy incinerator, which a corporation wants to build in an area already contaminated with lead, arsenic and other heavy metals.
    Alejandro Davila / Earthjustice
    For six years, Arecibo residents have used NEPA to halt a waste-to-energy incinerator, which a corporation wants to build in an area already contaminated with lead, arsenic and other heavy metals.

    On the northern coast of Puerto Rico, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, NEPA has for the past six years helped the town of Arecibo breathe a little easier. There, residents have used NEPA’s critical safeguards to halt a waste-to-energy incinerator that would operate in an area already contaminated with heavy metals.

    The incinerator, which proponents hope will get federal financing, would reportedly burn more than 2,000 tons of trash a day less than two miles from the largest wetland in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico residents face 2.5 times the death rate from asthma as residents of the mainland United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, so the incinerator’s toxic fumes would be dumped into the air in an already at-risk community.

    As Puerto Rico rebuilds from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, the last thing it needs is another blow to its environmental health. For Arecibo—and many other communities around the country—NEPA offers life-saving protection.

    If it weren’t for NEPA, Arecibo residents would have few tools to fight an incinerator that could further pollute the town's air and harm nearby wildlife. NEPA forced government agencies to conduct public hearings and an environmental impact review on the incinerator project.
    Alejandro Davila / Earthjustice
    If it weren’t for NEPA, Arecibo residents would have few tools to fight an incinerator that could further pollute the town's air and harm nearby wildlife. NEPA forced government agencies to conduct public hearings and an environmental impact review on the incinerator project.
    Cinta Kaipat, Tinian and Pågan:
    “We will fight this fight without firing a shot. The military will sit up and take notice and hear our voices.”
    Cinta Kaipat is a resident of Saipan who has been fighting to return to her home island of Pågan. Pågan was evacuated years ago due to a volcanic eruption, but now former residents are prevented from returning. The U.S. military wants to turn Pågan—and the nearby island of Tinian—into a live-fire training area. Kaipat is a client in an Earthjustice lawsuit that is using NEPA to protect Pågan and Tinian.
    Lauren Benson for Earthjustice
    Cinta Kaipat is a resident of Saipan who has been fighting to return to her home island of Pågan. Pågan was evacuated years ago due to a volcanic eruption, but now former residents are prevented from returning. The U.S. military wants to turn Pågan—and the nearby island of Tinian—into a live-fire training area. Kaipat is a client in an Earthjustice lawsuit that is using NEPA to protect Pågan and Tinian.

    Prime farmland, fisheries, beaches, forests and coral reefs—now at risk in the North Pacific—are also benefiting from the defensive power of NEPA. The U.S. government wants to conduct destructive war games on two islands, Tinian and Pågan, in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. There, mostly indigenous and low-income U.S. citizens are using NEPA to compel the U.S. Navy to consider the devastating effects that artillery, rockets and bombardment could have on their tropical homeland and sacred sites. Training could make it impossible for formerly displaced families to return to Pågan and could also disrupt access to vital emergency medical care.

    If it weren’t for NEPA, low-income families and community leaders in the Northern Marianas would have little chance to protect their lands and livelihoods.

    Pictured, clockwise from the top left: Gus Castro on Apå'an Santatti Beach on Pågan. The beach is one site where the U.S. military wants to do live-fire training and practice amphibious landings. A Japanese bomber lies near the airstrip on Pågan. Relics from WWII litter the island. Guma Taga, an archeological site on the island. The site is filled with lattes, ancient stone supports that were used in construction. Earthjustice attorney David Henkin speaks with a client on Pågan.
    Dan Lin for Earthjustice
    Pictured, clockwise from the top left: Gus Castro on Apå'an Santatti Beach on Pågan. The beach is one site where the U.S. military wants to do live-fire training and practice amphibious landings. A Japanese bomber lies near the airstrip on Pågan. Relics from WWII litter the island. Guma Taga, an archeological site on the island. The site is filled with lattes, ancient stone supports that were used in construction. Earthjustice attorney David Henkin speaks with a client on Pågan.

    How Is the Trump Administration Attacking NEPA?

    On July 15, the White House Council on Environmental Quality released the final text of a rule that dismantles this crucial safeguard of community health and wild lands.
    The new rule exempts many projects from the public review process that NEPA requires. It also allows agencies to issue permits without considering the climate impacts of projects such as coal mines or pipelines. Polluter groups like the American Petroleum Institute have long lobbied for such changes.
    The Trump administration and its industry allies have claimed that “permitting reform” is necessary in order to conduct infrastructure upgrades. This is false. The Treasury Department has noted that “a lack of funds is by far the most common challenge to completing” major infrastructure projects.
    Rather than providing adequate funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other permitting agencies, the Trump administration has proposed budget cuts that would only make it more difficult to fast-track permitting timelines.
    Tell your lawmakers to speak out in support of NEPA now. Community voices should not be silenced in favor of corporate interests. Don’t let the administration dismantle this bedrock environmental law.
    NEPA allowed these individuals to advocate for removing four dams on the lower Snake River to restore wild salmon runs. They are four of the more than 480,000 people who made their voices heard on this issue. Pictured, clockwise from the top left, are former Idaho Fish and Game biologist Steve Pettit, Executive Director of the Nez Perce Tribe Rebecca Miles, Earthjustice attorney Todd True and Nez Perce tribal member Elliott Moffett.
    Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
    NEPA allowed these individuals to advocate for removing four dams on the lower Snake River to restore wild salmon runs. They are four of the more than 480,000 people who made their voices heard on this issue. Pictured, clockwise from the top left, are former Idaho Fish and Game biologist Steve Pettit, Executive Director of the Nez Perce Tribe Rebecca Miles, Earthjustice attorney Todd True and Nez Perce tribal member Elliott Moffett.