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Trump Administration Launches Attack on Nation’s First Environmental Law

Earthjustice pledges to defend National Environmental Policy Act from attacks
The construction of a natural gas pipeline in Michigan.

The construction of a natural gas pipeline in Michigan.

Consumers Energy / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
January 9, 2020
Washington, D.C. —

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) plans to release a sweeping proposal to rewrite the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to benefit big polluters and corporate special interests.

The National Environmental Policy Act grew out of decades of determined activism on the part of people demanding a say in decisions affecting their homes, health, and environment. Passed by broad, bipartisan majorities in the House and Senate and signed into law by a Republican president, NEPA has protected clean air, clean water, and healthy communities for decades. The law ensures that communities have a voice in planning and can protect themselves from dangerous, rushed, or poorly planned federal projects by mandating environmental impact statements (EISs) and allowing for public comment and review. NEPA’s process often results in smarter, healthier alternatives to polluting projects.

The following is a statement from Stephen Schima, a senior legislative counsel leading NEPA advocacy work for Earthjustice:

“This law was built on decades of activism from people who wanted a say in decisions affecting their health, their lives, their communities, and their environment. By stacking the deck for corporate polluters and eviscerating public participation, this administration is trashing that legacy. Without this law, the government will have an easier time letting dirty industry tear down trees, put up refineries next to children’s schools, and risk our health. Worse still, this proposal will threaten to silence the voices of the very people government should be listening to — the people living on the front lines of the climate crisis.”

According to recent reports, the Trump administration’s proposal could drastically curtail NEPA’s ability to protect communities in a variety of ways, including:

  • Allowing project sponsors — often polluter interests seeking federal permits — to write their own reviews.The proposal would effectively give project sponsors in the NEPA process the ability to write their own reviews, stacking the deck in the review process for those who want to slash, burn, and pollute communities’ air and water for the sake of profit. Cementing conflicts-of-interest into federal regulation puts our health at risk and undermines our democracy.
  • Restrictions on public input: The right of citizens to meaningfully weigh in on federal decisions impacting their communities is the most important guarantee of the current protections afforded under NEPA. This proposal slaps time limits on environmental impact studies and pushes the public out of key decisions. This attack will have especially dire impacts on the vulnerable communities who lack the resources to fight misguided or dangerous projects and rely on NEPA's public participation guarantees as tools to ensure environmental justice is a core consideration in planning.
  • Narrowing the scope of NEPA review, effectively blocking the public from offering project alternatives. The consideration of project alternatives is often called the “heart of the environmental impact statement.” Consideration of alternatives often results in the discovery of new opportunities to mitigate environmental damage and save taxpayer money. The Trump administration’s proposal would redefine the term “major federal action,” narrowing the number of actions that require NEPA review. This would severely curtail review of environmental impacts and provide the public with little to no voice in the decisions affecting their communities, effectively placing new restraints on the use of environmental impact studies.
  • Institutionalizing climate denial in environmental planning. NEPA requires federal agencies to consider not only the impacts a federal decision may have on climate change, but also the impacts climate change may have on federal projects — including the roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure this country so desperately needs and which needs to be built to withstand rising seas, increased flooding, and other extreme weather events. The Trump administration’s new NEPA guidance is its latest attempt to undermine climate action, coming after of the withdrawal of NEPA Climate Guidance in early 2017. Under this new proposal, the federal government would effectively have the power to ignore climate change impacts that could put our infrastructure as well as the health and safety of frontline communities at risk.

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Contacts

Phil LaRue, Earthjustice, (202) 797-4317