Jul 15 2020
Then-President, Richard Nixon, signed NEPA into law on January 1, 1970, ensuring that our nation’s economy could expand and society could evolve while in harmony with the environment. The law requires the federal government to analyze the environmental impacts of its proposed actions, as well as potential effects those activities would have on public health and quality of life – for example, how a pipeline explosion could impact a nearby Indigenous community or what the repercussions of an oil spill could be for a small coastal community whose economy relies on the seafood and tourism industries. NEPA’s framework is based on public input and review of these proposed federal actions.
The Trump Administration’s rule finalized today fundamentally undermines the original intent of the law, and would significantly curtail public input and could allow federal agencies to ignore the cumulative environmental impacts of decisions and actions.
“Fifty years ago, Republican President Richard Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act into law in response to widespread public concern over the worsening conditions of our nation’s environment. As the United States waged a war abroad, environmental crises mounted at home. Americans witnessed the devastating toll after millions of gallons of oil spilled off the California coast at Santa Barbara, killing thousands of birds and other marine wildlife. Garbage littered our shores and rivers were so polluted with waste they would spontaneously catch on fire. Industries polluted our waterways with impunity and factories spewed toxic fumes into the air, cloaking our communities in thick smog.
“NEPA was transformative because the environmental problems we faced at the time of its enactment represented tremendous challenges. In the face of those challenges, Americans demanded transformative action. Now, fifty years later, the American people are being confronted with another environmental challenge – one that puts public health, quality of life and the future of our planet at greater risk with every passing day.
“The Trump Administration should be heeding the lessons of the past and examining how NEPA can help us overcome the greatest environmental threat of our time, the climate crisis. The Trump Administration should be embracing the forward-looking principles of NEPA to ensure the infrastructure projects we build now can withstand our climate reality. But instead, with this rollback, the Trump Administration is attempting to take us backward—back to a time when our natural resources were exploited without hesitation, when industries could pollute without consequence and Americans had little recourse to influence the federal decisions and projects impacting their own communities.
“This rollback undermines the principles of democracy expressed through NEPA that led to stronger environmental quality, better public health and greater public involvement in the federal decision-making process. By ensuring an equitable decision-making process – one that allows people of all backgrounds, colors, creeds and walks of life to influence federal decisions – NEPA has helped to ensure more equitable outcomes. This rule will significantly limit public input, disproportionately hurting communities of color and Indigenous communities that rely on NEPA to defend their voice.
“The irony of this rollback is that it aims to speed up project delivery, but is only sure to sow chaos and confusion for the foreseeable future, inviting litigation that will ultimately slow project delivery across the country. At the same time, agencies across the government will have to go through an extensive public review and comment process before updating their existing NEPA practices and procedures. Needless to say, this is not the end of the road for NEPA, not by any stretch of the imagination.
“As humanity faces the greatest environmental challenge of our time, the fight to save our planet from climate change, we must work together to find lasting solutions. This highly divisive, harmful and partisan rollback will not last.”
Senator Carper has been leading the charge in the U.S. Senate to protect and defend NEPA. After the Trump Administration announced its proposed regulations:
- On January 31, Senator Carper joined Representative Grijavla and 165 Members of Congress in sending a letter to CEQ requesting an extension on the public comment period on CEQ’s proposed NEPA rule changes.
- On February 25, Senator Carper testified in front of the White House CEQ at its public hearing in Washington, D.C.
- On February 26, Senator Carper joined with Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and other colleagues in sending a letter to CEQ describing how its proposed changes to the consideration of cumulative impacts would have devastating consequences.
- On February 27, Senator Carper sent a letter to CEQ underscoring how the proposed regulations fail to protect Americans from the public health and economic threats of climate change.
- On March 9, Senator Carper joined members of the Senate Environmental Justice Caucus in sending a letter to CEQ detailing ways in which the proposal would exacerbate harmful environmental impacts on Environmental Justice communities.
- Also on March 9, Senator Carper sent a letter to CEQ warning that the NEPA proposal would greatly inhibit the sharing of concerns by and engagement of American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities.
- On March 10, the last day for the public to submit comment on the Trump Administration’s NEPA rulemaking proposal, Senator Carper sent a letter to CEQ expressing his concern with the legality of the NEPA rollbacks and encouraged CEQ to abandon the effort.
- Also on March 10, Senator Carper led a Senate resolution (S. Res. 537) opposing the Trump Administration’s efforts and underscoring the historic and national importance of NEPA.
- On March 10, Senator Carper joined Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and other colleagues in sending a letter to CEQ in opposition of the proposal, describing how it would inflict widespread damage to our nation’s transportation system programs.
- Also on March 10, Senator Carper spoke on the Senate floor to once again urge the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to reverse course on its proposal.
- On April 9, Senator Carper sent a letter to CEQ requesting more information about the agency’s use of an email address to receive public comments on its proposed revision to the implementing regulations of NEPA implementing regulations.
- On July 9, Senator Carper joined a bicameral group of senators and House members in sending a letter to President Trump, which warned the president that CEQ’s proposed NEPA rollback would eliminate core protections afforded to environmental justice communities.