WASHINGTON— The Center for Biological Diversity joined hundreds of conservation groups to file formal comments today with the Trump administration opposing its plans to gut the rules that govern the landmark National Environmental Policy Act.
In documents submitted today, the Center said the proposed rules governing environmental reviews of federal activities will threaten critical safeguards for air, water and wildlife.
“These rules would hand the keys to our environment over to corporate polluters and developers,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center. “The Trump administration’s reckless plans will have devastating effects on our air, water and public lands. If these rules are finalized, we’ll lose crucial tools for curbing pollution and letting communities weigh in on dangerous developments in their backyards.”
Trump’s proposal would:
- Allow leasing of public lands and waters for fracking and drilling to avoid environmental review under a new loophole that says federal officials can ignore projects’ cumulative and indirect impacts, such as carbon pollution;
- Squelch public participation in federal decisions by limiting the types of projects to be reviewed and imposing arbitrary time limits on completion of environmental reviews;
- Institutionalize climate denial by lifting the requirement that federal agencies consider new science, such as new information about harm to groundwater from fracking, before approving a new project;
- Allow corporate polluters to be in charge of writing and evaluating their own environmental reviews.
The rule would apply to mining, drilling and logging on public lands, as well as new dams, highways and pipelines. Oil and gas pipelines, gas export terminals and other fossil fuel infrastructure would escape meaningful environmental analysis. There would be no consideration of harm to the climate or to wildlife from drilling rigs and other projects.
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 gives the public a voice in government decision-making and ensures that federal agencies take a hard look at 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 show that NEPA has worked well for 50 years. 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 has also been vital in raising concerns about environmentally destructive projects, including the Keystone XL pipeline.
If the proposed NEPA rules had been in place, a road could’ve been bulldozed through Izembek National Wildlife Refuge without considering that road’s irreparable damage to world-class wetlands that support millions of migrating birds, caribou and bears. Under the current rules, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rejected the project because of the indirect and cumulative harm that road construction, and later road use, would cause to wildlife.
“Trump’s attack on NEPA puts some of the country’s most spectacular wild places and our climate at much greater risk,” said Spivak. “If federal agencies are going to turn a blind eye to environmental threats, the public must fight back against this disgraceful abdication of responsibility. We’ll challenge these rules and do everything possible to protect the planet for future generations.”
Catastrophes can result when a federal agency exempts a project from environmental review. The Interior Department excluded the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig from an in-depth environmental review under the premise that it would not result in significant harm. In 2010 the oil rig exploded when the blowout preventer failed, killing 11 people and causing the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
The Trump administration is expected to finalize the NEPA rules in the coming months.