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July 15, 2020
Contact: Tom Lalley

Final NEPA Rule Breaks Long-Standing Legal Promise that Citizens Have a Voice in Decisions on Major Projects

Today's announcement undermines scrutiny of projects that have historically impacted environmental justice communities most.

Washington, D.C. The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today finalized a rule that makes sweeping changes to how agencies implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). For more than half a century, NEPA has given the public a voice in federal agency decisions over approvals for pipelines, highways and other large infrastructure projects, and ensured that the environmental impacts of these actions are subjected to comprehensive and transparent reviews. The new rule ends the well-established requirement that agencies consider the cumulative impacts — including climate impacts — of their actions, narrows the range of projects to be reviewed under NEPA, and curtails meaningful public review and input. David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law and former Interior Deputy Secretary in the Obama and Clinton administrations, released the following statement in response to the final NEPA rule:
“For more than 50 years, NEPA has promised Americans that before federal officials approve major projects, they must review potential adverse impacts, make them public, and hear the views of affected citizens. The administration’s final NEPA rule breaks that long-standing legal promise, leaving our most vulnerable citizens — including many already impacted by historic, unjust environmental harms — voiceless and at the mercy of an administration that favors industry profits over Americans’ health and well-being. Among other things, the revised rule will enable proponents of fossil fuel-based power and pipeline projects to reduce or even skip serious analysis of climate impacts and health dangers associated with their projects and with connected activities. The rule undermines the foundation of our environmental laws.”
Enacted in 1970, NEPA is often described as the basic national charter for protection of the environment. NEPA ensures that federal agencies fully consider the environmental consequences of their actions and consider alternatives that minimize unnecessary degradation.
The Council on Environmental Quality is tasked with coordinating NEPA reviews across nearly 80 federal agencies to ensure a consistent regulatory approach. NEPA applies to about 50,000 federal actions every year, but fewer than one percent of all federal actions require a detailed environmental impact statement.
In January 2020, CEQ released a proposed rule that would radically alter NEPA’s implementing regulations. Two months later, Washington Attorney General Bob FergusonNew York Attorney General Letitia JamesDistrict of Columbia Attorney General Karl Racine and California Attorney General Becerra led a coalition of 20 attorneys general in filing comments opposing the proposal, noting that it would upend the ability of federal agencies to comprehensively evaluate the impacts of their actions on the environment and public health, and leave states with the responsibility to fill the gaps left by inadequate NEPA reviews.
More information on NEPA and related actions by state attorneys general can be found on our website.


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. For more information, visit our website