For Immediate Release,
June 17, 2019
WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to release public records on why it abruptly stopped issuing public grades on environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.
In 1969 Congress gave the EPA oversight to determine how well federal agencies complied with the Act, which requires that environmental impacts be considered in federal decision-making. The agency’s grading system — in place for more than three decades — helped the public know when an environmental review was inadequate.
But the grades were ended in October 2018 by Brittany Bolen, a former staffer for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and a political appointee at the EPA Office of Policy.
“This is like a student hiding his report card because it’s full of Fs,” said Paulo Lopes, a public lands policy specialist at the Center. “The Trump administration wants to conceal its systematic efforts to dismantle environmental safeguards. Officials are rubber-stamping polluting projects, regardless of the damage. The public deserves to know why the EPA secretly abandoned this critical oversight tool.”
The agency’s grading system provided a clear, nontechnical measure of agencies’ environmental reviews of projects, from pipelines to coal mines to logging in national forests. It also required the EPA to meet with agencies to attempt to resolve deficiencies in their environmental reviews.
The Keystone XL pipeline assessments repeatedly received failing and inadequate grades, which helped alert the public to the pipeline’s dangers. Other projects that have received poor grades include the PolyMet Copper Mine in Minnesota and the Rosemont mine in Arizona.
“When the State Department got a failing grade on its Keystone XL assessment, that helped sound the alarm on the pipeline’s massive threat to our climate,” said Lopes. “Sadly the only lesson the Trump administration and its industry cronies learned was to shoot the messenger. That way the public won’t even know the next time a disastrous project is railroaded through.”
In December the Center requested documents under the Freedom of Information Act about the EPA’s decision to abandon NEPA letter grades, but the Trump administration has failed to comply with that request.