For Immediate Release, July 15, 2020


Brett Hartl, (202) 817-8121,

Trump Administration Dismantles Bedrock Environmental Law

NEPA Gutting Threatens Air, Water, Wildlife, Public Lands

WASHINGTON— The Trump administration finalized a sweeping rollback today of the National Environmental Policy Act’s rules for conducting environmental reviews of federal activities. The final rule drastically curtails environmental reviews for thousands of federal agency projects nationwide, a move that will weaken safeguards for air, water, wildlife and public lands.

The new rule, which will likely be challenged in court, also squelches the public’s voice in federal agency decisions about projects like highways, coal mines, and oil and gas drilling. It imposes arbitrary time limits on completion of environmental reviews.

“This may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years,” said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration is turning back the clock to when rivers caught fire, our air was unbreathable, and our most beloved wildlife was spiraling toward extinction. The foundational law of the modern environmental movement has been turned into a rubber stamp to enrich for-profit corporations, and we doubt the courts will stand for that.”

Federal agencies will now be able to ignore projects’ cumulative and indirect impacts, such as whether a coal mine’s greenhouse gas emissions would worsen climate change.

Oil and gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure will now escape meaningful environmental analysis, with no consideration of harm to wildlife like sage grouse or marine mammals from drilling rigs and other projects. And communities will have less of a voice in federal projects, such as whether a highway will cut through their neighborhoods, threatening businesses and worsening air pollution.

The National Environmental Policy Act is sometimes called the “magna carta” of environmental protections. Congress passed the Act nearly unanimously, and it was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on Jan. 1, 1970.

NEPA allows the public to participate in government decision-making. It helps ensure transparency by requiring that federal agencies “look before they leap” and analyze potential environmental harms before making decisions. The law has served as the model for conducting environmental reviews for more than 100 countries and dozens of U.S. states and localities.

Data collected by federal agencies show that NEPA works well and as intended, despite unproven rhetoric by right-wing industry groups regarding project delays. For instance, more than 192,000 projects, worth about $300 billion, efficiently went through the NEPA process as part of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The NEPA process also has been vital in raising concerns about environmentally destructive projects, including the Keystone XL pipeline.

“NEPA’s dismantling is a win for corruption, a win for polluters, and a win for those that profit off the destruction of our planet,” said Hartl. “Everyone else loses.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.