Four North Carolina environmental groups are among the 17 organizations suing to block new Trump rules which would greatly weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA passed in 1970, and has stood as a cornerstone of American environmental law for the ensuing 50 years.
Observers believe Trump is attempting to rush these changes through before the election, in order to win support from polluters that favor weakening this bedrock environmental law.
The NC Wildlife Federation, Clean Air Carolina, Haw River Assembly, and MountainTrue have been part of the fight to protect NEPA every step of the way as the Trump Administration has worked to gut the law which requires environmental impact studies of federal projects. They and the other plaintiffs in this case are asking the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville to approve a preliminary injunction keeping the changes from going into effect while the case is being litigated.
The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) represents the plaintiffs. Senior attorney Kym Hunter said the changes were rushed through without adequate reviews required by federal law. “The rule will go into effect on September 14, 2020 and in addition to applying to new projects can apply to projects already in process,” Hunter said. In its motion seeking the injunction, SELC cites several specific projects in North Carolina which would be affected, including a port expansion and railroad realignment in Wilmington, and bridges impacting coastal, Piedmont, and mountain waters.
NEPA reviews rarely block a project altogether, but they are often critical to ensuring projects are designed and built in ways that are least damaging to water, air, and wildlife. In some cases, a thorough NEPA review has shown a proposed project to be so damaging that the impacted public has successfully demanded it be scrapped completely.
Ron Ross of Charlotte, who heads the Northwood Estates Community Organization, said the NEPA changes would particularly affect communities of color, which often lack the resources to fight projects which would compromise their air and water quality.