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Why We Oppose the Trump Administration’s Plan to Undercut NEPA

On March 10, 2020, the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund (CSLDF) filed comments on a proposal by the President’s Council on Environmental Quality to alter the rules for implementing the landmark National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA was enacted in 1970 and is described by the Environmental Protection Agency as “one of the first laws ever written that establishes [a] broad national framework for protecting our environment.”

The NEPA process for reviewing the environmental impacts of proposed projects relies on contributions from scientists who help determine what a proposed project will mean for climate change, air and water quality, wildlife habitat, and a range of other critical environmental issues.

The proposed changes, announced by President Trump on January 9, would cut scientists’ voices out of this environmental review process. The changes would limit or eliminate the requirement—long-established in agency practice and case law—that federal agencies consider the indirect impacts of a project, as well as how small impacts can combine to become cumulatively significant.

The proposed changes also give companies sponsoring projects more leeway to manage the environmental review process. This change is a clear conflict of interest and potentially limits the involvement of federal scientists in the environmental review process.

The proposal would impose limits on the time and number of pages available to agencies for conducting their environmental reviews that are well below the current averages. Doing so could restrict the participation of scientists in the NEPA process by not allowing them the time or pages needed to compile, process, and assess scientific information and present it for review by the agency and the public.

Congress passed NEPA to ensure that agencies fully and transparently consider the best available science on the environmental impacts of a proposed action, and use that information to make informed decisions. This process has worked well and provided key environmental safeguards for 50 years.

The changes proposed by the Council on Environmental Quality to NEPA’s implementing regulations would accomplish the opposite. For these reasons, we at CSLDF are joining hundreds of other organizations in filing comments opposing the proposed changes—read our comments here.

We hope that the Council on Environmental Quality will consider these comments and reverse course on this destructive proposal.

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