FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 9, 2020
Contact: Tom Lalley
Tom.Lalley@nyu.edu
202-997-0899


State Attorneys General Slam Trump Administration’s Unprecedented Attack on National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

CEQ proposal would cut out consideration of climate and cumulative impacts, limit public input in environmental reviews.

Washington, D.C. — State attorneys general were highly critical of a proposed rule announced today by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) that would make sweeping changes to how agencies implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Enacted fifty years ago, NEPA is one of the nation’s foundational environmental statutes, ensuring that the public has a voice in agency decision-making processes — such as the approval of pipelines, mines and other large infrastructure projects — and that the environmental impacts of these actions are subjected to comprehensive and transparent reviews.
 
The CEQ proposal would end the well-established requirement that federal agencies consider the cumulative impacts of their actions and, if finalized, will dramatically restrict the extent to which agencies consider the climate impacts of their actions. The proposal seeks to narrow the range of projects that will be reviewed under NEPA, establishes arbitrary time constraints and page limits, and curtails meaningful public review and input. Taken together, these changes would radically restrict the scope of NEPA reviews.
 
“NEPA has long stood as the cornerstone of our national environmental policy. Undermining NEPA and the transparency it provides puts our environment at risk and pushes our environmental goals out of reach,” said California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “With the Trump administration’s proposal, we can expect more environmental destruction, more natural disasters, and accelerated climate change. We’ll remind President Trump again: if you try to backslide on the nation’s environment and put polluters in the driver’s seat, we will hold you accountable.”
 
“For over 50 years NEPA has enshrined a basic principle of good governance: that federal agencies should stop and think about the environmental consequences of their actions before they proceed. Now, with the world on the brink of climate catastrophe, such foresight is more important than ever. Today, however, the Trump Administration has dangerously reversed course,” said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. “Make no mistake, Trump’s proposal, which instructs agencies to ignore the ‘cumulative effects’ of their actions and explicitly exempts permits key to oil and gas exploration and pipeline development from any environmental review, is a dead giveaway to the oil and gas industry. Not only will this allow for more reckless development but it is a slap in the face to every American community that feels that it has a right to comment when a project is proposed in its backyard.”
 
“In another giveaway for his friends in the real estate and fossil fuel industries, President Trump wants to gut the [National Environmental Policy Act],” said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. “This 50-year-old law requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impact of their actions. I strongly oppose this proposal.”

Key Elements of the Proposed Rule

  • Severely limits consideration of climate impacts by instructing agencies that effects “should not be considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the result of a lengthy causal chain.”
  • Downplays cumulative and indirect impacts by removing the definition of the term from NEPA’s implementing regulations and explicitly stating that analysis of cumulative and indirect effects is “not required.”
  • Restricts public participation by allowing agencies to ignore public comments deemed insufficiently “timely” or “specific.”
  • Establishes arbitrary constraints on the length (300 pages) and preparation time (2 years) of environmental impact statements unless specific exemptions are granted by a senior agency official.
  • Expands categorical exclusions that exempt certain types of projects from NEPA review altogether.

Background

NEPA’s stated purpose is to “encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation.”
 
The Council on Environmental Quality is tasked with coordinating NEPA reviews across nearly 80 federal agencies to ensure a consistent regulatory approach. Every year, NEPA applies to about 50,000 federal actions, but fewer than one percent of all federal projects require a detailed environmental impact statement.
 
In June 2018, CEQ released an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to consider modifying NEPA’s implementing regulations. Two months later, a coalition of 10 attorneys general submitted comments on the proposal urging restraint and questioning the necessity of a far-reaching reevaluation. The attorneys general also expressed concern that NEPA revisions may limit the public’s ability to participate in future environmental reviews, and threaten the health of states’ residents and the integrity of local ecosystems. More information on actions by state attorneys general related to NEPA can be found on our website.

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About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
For more information, visit our website