How President Trump is resolving to weaken your right to public input of federal projects.
While you were out of the office for the holidays, spending time with family and setting your new year's resolution, President Trump was moving to limit your ability to know about and help shape the projects being built in your community.
With no sense of irony, Trump issued a presidential message for the 50th anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act that resolved to block this fundamental statute from working the way it needs to. New rules are coming that will weaken public input and critical safeguards for communities, clean air, water, and wildlife.
The National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) has been the North Star for our country’s existing environmental protections. The law grants you and your neighbors a voice in government decisions. It has been a beacon of light for other nations, which have adopted similar laws. As the statute says, NEPA seeks “to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.”
The review process set up by the law remains a critical federal screening mechanism to ensure that climate, environmental, and community impacts are considered before federal infrastructure decisions are finalized. This includes new highways, bridges, pipelines, or even coal export terminals.
According to the New York Times, the proposed new rule would also no longer require agencies to consider climate change and the “cumulative” consequences of new infrastructure. The cumulative cost of extreme weather events and climate-related disasters on our roads, energy, water, sewer, and other infrastructure have exceeded $1.7 trillion since 1980.
Last year, 2019 became the fifth consecutive year (2015–2019) in which 10 or more billion-dollar weather and climate disaster events have impacted the United States, according to the National Centers for Environmental Information. It is irresponsible to build new infrastructure without considering the impact of climate change. We simply can’t afford the cost of building new projects that will be destroyed by the next storm and negatively impact our communities.
Our future should not be a partisan issue. When NEPA was first signed into law in 1970, it was under a Republican administration and Democrat-controlled Congress. There was consensus among both branches of government that we should Never Eliminate Public Advice. Congress mandated that federal agencies must conduct an environmental impact statement and environmental assessment of their actions and inform the public of their decision making. Prior to NEPA, communities were being bulldozed to create highways, oil spills were occurring on public land. There was limited to no transparency of what was occurring in your own backyard by the government and limited coordination among government agencies.
For the last 50 years, NEPA has protected us and the environment by giving us a voice, and now as we enter the new year and new decade, we must resolve to protect it and safeguard our future.