The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the “Magna Carta” of environmental legislation in the U.S. NEPA does two important things: it informs decision makers about potential impacts of government projects (and all reasonable alternatives to these projects), and it gives the public a chance to comment on proposed projects. What is unique about NEPA is that its provisions protect both the environment and local communities from potentially negative impacts of proposed government actions.
NEPA is currently under attack by both the Trump Administration and Congress. For the first time since NEPA regulations were issued in 1979, the Council on Environmental Quality (the agency that oversees NEPA) has opened up the full set of regulations for comment. Why? Perhaps it is because the government prefers to cater to the special interests of developers and industry polluters, rather than to the interests of the public, the intended beneficiary of the regulations.
One of the authors of NEPA, Senator Henry Jackson, stated on the floor of the U.S. Senate that Congress’ bipartisan passage of NEPA represented a declaration “that we do not intend, as a government or as a people, to initiate actions which endanger the continued existence or the health of mankind.” Jackson felt that individuals and communities should have a say about government actions that could affect their health and welfare, and emphasized that public participation in government decisions is an essential component of a democracy.
The regulations of NEPA have stood the test of time. In fact, NEPA is the most widely exported law ever passed in the U.S.—over 160 other countries have adopted similar legislation. What we should be doing now is implementing NEPA’s regulations, not dismantling them.
Friends of the Sonoran Desert, along with 350 other environmental organizations, has sent a letter to the government telling CEQ not to gut the regulations. It would help if all of you, as individuals, would tell CEQ to do three things: 1) Expand, rather than cut back, opportunities for public involvement; 2) Retain the requirement that alternatives to proposed agency actions must be analyzed; 3) Keep the requirement to fully assess the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of proposed actions.
Comments can be mailed to CEQ at: Council on Environmental Quality, 730 Jackson Place, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20503 or submitted electronically at https://www.regulations.gov using this Docket No.: CEQ-2018-0001. The deadline to submit comments is THIS COMING MONDAY, August 20