Last week, President Donald Trump finalized his most sweeping move yet to tear down the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA’s legal protections have helped control environmental damage to the United States for a half-century, and rolling it back will do the most harm to communities of color who are disproportionately polluters’ victims.
Trump’s executive order guts NEPA, a bedrock of American environmental law since 1970. NEPA requires public review of federally-funded or federally-approved major projects, aiming to limit environmental destruction.
- Removes requirements to consider climate impacts before approving a project
- Reduces the weight given to objections from a project’s nearby communities, which are often communities of color
- Allows more industry involvement in reviewing their own projects or even avoiding review altogether
- Eliminates the government’s responsibility to consider the cumulative impacts of multiple similar projects
Responding to the Trump order, League of Conservation Voters president Gene Karpinski said,
“President Trump continues to show that he values polluter profits far more than the health and safety of our families. Today’s changes to the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act perpetuate environmental racism. This move undermines communities’ ability to have a voice in major construction projects in their own backyards — especially low-income and communities of color that are often targeted by the fossil fuel industry and other heavy industry. Both the climate crisis and the pandemic remind us why we need critical transparency, community review, and protections envisioned in the National Environmental Policy Act now more than ever.”Trump’s Final NEPA Rule Will Perpetuate Environmental Racism
Gina McCarthy, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, promised that environmental advocates will fight the Trump order:
“This is a clear attempt to silence and sideline people to make it easier for industry to pollute our communities. We will not let it stand. People have a right to weigh in before a highway project tears up their neighborhood or a pipeline goes through their backyard. Steamrolling their concerns will mean more polluted air, more contaminated water, more health threats, and more environmental destruction. It is especially wrong-headed to undermine people’s right to speak up in the midst of a public health crisis that is hitting low-income people and communities of color the hardest because of the higher rates of pollution they live with every day.”NRDC: President Trump Silences Public to Help Polluters
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) currently represents 16 conservation organizations in defending NEPA. SELC senior attorney Kym Hunter, who leads SELC’s work on the defense, said,
“This is a blatant and transparent effort from the Trump administration to further silence communities that are not as well connected, not as wealthy, not as valuable to the White House as others. And the fact that it is happening now, when so many in our communities are crying out for equity and fairness, is particularly appalling.”Feds Gut Cornerstone Environmental Protection
Legal challenges will likely keep the changes at bay for the rest of 2020. Ultimately, the person elected president in November will determine whether NEPA fails or stands sentinel for Americans’ health for another 50 years.