Most Projects Reviewed Will Harm Environment, Report Finds
WASHINGTON (April 8, 2004) - The Bush administration's acceleration of transportation projects will result in highway and airport construction that threatens the environment and public health, according to a report released today by two national conservation groups. The groups, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) and Environmental Defense, found that 12 of the 13 projects they reviewed violate the spirit, if not the letter, of a presidential executive order that called for expediting transportation projects without sacrificing environmental protection and public participation. (The report is available here.)
"The Bush executive order paid lip service to protecting the environment, but the administration's real goal is painfully apparent when you take a close look at what it is going on on the ground," said Deron Lovaas, deputy director of NRDC's Smart Growth and Transportation Program. "Time after time, the administration has cut the public out of the process and turned the steamrollers loose."
President Bush issued the executive order in September 2002 with the stated purpose to encourage a cooperative approach among federal and state officials and the public to expedite projects and promote "environmental stewardship." (For the executive order, click here.) However, according to the report, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has failed to fulfill the executive order's promise, largely because it accepted controversial projects that will endanger drinking water supplies, wildlife, and air quality. Moreover, in most cases, the agency cut short or avoided considering alternatives to highway construction, such as public transit.
"By involving the public and environmental agencies, transportation projects can be done faster and better," said Michael Replogle, Environmental Defense transportation director. "When fast-tracking short changes critical reviews, it misses opportunities to reduce conflict and environmental harm."
The groups found only one of the 13 projects they reviewed met the executive order's standards for public involvement, consideration of alternatives, and preventing harm to communities and the environment. The groups gave five other projects mixed reviews, warning that DOT should reconsider some aspects of them. DOT should pull back and reevaluate the remaining seven projects, the groups said, because of the lack of public participation and the threat they pose to the environment and public health.
"There's still time for the Transportation Department to fulfill the promise of the executive order and make sure that projects that require fast-track reviews fully comply with environmental laws," said Replogle. "We hope the Bush administration will do more to work with environmental interests, change course, and make this happen."