Skip to main content
What You Should Know

Trump Wants to Undo the Oldest 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

Trump Wants to Undo the Oldest 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.

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, it’s under attack from Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration.

Earthjustice is taking a stand against changes that would radically undermine NEPA — and we need your help.

Take Action: Protect NEPA - Protect your Voice

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.
Pedro Saade, Arecibo, Puerto Rico:
“If NEPA laws were to be gutted, people would lose their ability to fight for their health and well-being.”
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.

Take Action: Protect NEPA - Protect your Voice

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.

How Does NEPA Work on the Ground?

The NEPA process involves a study of the environmental, health, safety, economic, social and cultural impacts of a project. This process begins when a government agency creates a proposal of action, typically for a construction project that uses federal resources. If it’s determined that the action is covered under NEPA, the agency must conduct three levels of analysis in order to comply with the law. These three levels include holding required public hearings, conducting environmental studies and preparing and circulating a report called an environmental impact statement.
NEPA applies to all federal agencies and to most of the activities they approve or carry out. Since it was passed in 1970, NEPA has protected public health, small businesses and wildlife and has saved taxpayers money.
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; the law has saved lives, preserved community integrity, protected endangered species and public land and saved billions of dollars, too. In the mid-1990s, for instance, 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.
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.

Take Action: Protect NEPA - Protect your Voice

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?

The White House Council on Environmental Quality has announced that it plans to re-examine the way the law’s regulations are implemented.
Trump and his 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.
Under the guise of streamlining regulations they’ve painted as bad for business, Trump’s administration could make it harder for communities to use the safeguards afforded by NEPA, while also handing giveaways to dirty energy special interests, such as allowing corporate polluters to run their own environmental impact studies or skip them altogether.
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.

What Can You Do to Fight Back?

The administration is giving citizens just 60 days to weigh in on whether it should change how NEPA works, and the deadline for submitting comments is fast approaching. The comment deadline is August 20th.
Tell the Council on Environmental Quality that your right to be heard is not negotiable. Any changes to NEPA’s regulations should involve strengthening it.
Community voices should not be silenced in favor of corporate interests. Don’t let the administration dismantle this bedrock environmental law.
Updated August 10, 2018