Restoring our bedrock environmental law after Trump-era rollbacks

Restoring our bedrock environmental law after Trump-era rollbacks

Restoring our bedrock environmental law after Trump-era rollbacks

Enacted in 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has become the nation’s bedrock environmental protection law. NEPA has been critical in giving a voice to community members in the permitting process. The Act has also promoted much-needed transparency around whether and how U.S. government activities impact the environment.

In one case, NEPA helped minimize air pollution associated with a proposed port terminal in Charleston, SC. Community members who were concerned about the project also helped secure $4 million in neighborhood and economic development projects to offset housing depreciation linked to the project. All of this was possible through protections brought by NEPA. 

NEPA also helps assess whether proposed projects will have unexpected consequences

and costs at the expense of taxpayers. For example, for one project in North Carolina alone, NEPA helped save over $685 million in tax dollars when the review process revealed that improving existing roads in North Carolina rather than constructing a new bypass could meet project goals to reduce severe congestion in the region.

But unfortunately, during Donald Trump’s time in the White House, NEPA was met with a sledgehammer. Trump has consistently been an ally to polluting industries like Big Oil and Big Ag. In the summer of 2020, his administration implemented rollbacks to NEPA that aided his allies by exempting dirty energy projects from basic environmental reviews. And to bring insult to injury, these rollbacks silenced public input on potentially catastrophic energy projects. 

So we took the administration to court. Represented by Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center, we joined 19 other environmental justice, outdoor recreation, environmental, and conservation groups to file a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its attacks on NEPA. 

In addition to our fight in court, we got Friends of the Earth members involved. Petitions calling for NEPA’s restoration yielded over 60,000 signatures.

Finally, after years of litigation, the Biden administration’s White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) finalized its two-part final rule, which both improved the law and reinstated the 2020 rollbacks to the National Environmental Policy Act. This marked a huge victory for protecting our environment and the voices of frontline communities. 

But the fight is not over. Shortly after CEQ’s rule became final, twenty conservative states filed a lawsuit in federal court in North Dakota to attack the move. This lawsuit is especially troubling given its direct attack on the environmental justice improvements to the law. One thing is certain: we are not going anywhere and will do everything possible to protect people and the planet from polluting corporate interests.

No matter who is in the White House, we are committed to ensuring that federal projects are not destroying the environment and the livelihoods of frontline communities. That means, whether in the courtroom or on the ground, we’ll be fighting to prevent polluting industries from carrying out environmentally destructive developments with no consideration for anything but profit. Together, we can ensure that communities that are most affected by dangerous projects are given the chance to make their voices heard. 

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