WASHINGTON (December 10, 2013) -- House and Senate conferees are nearing a deal that could mute the public's voice on major flood control, dam and other water projects, a deal that currently has the support of California’s Sen. Barbara Boxer. Both the House and Senate versions of the Water Resources Development Act, which passed earlier this year, contain provisions that weakened the National Environmental Policy Act, the key legislation that requires the federal government to disclose the environmental impacts of large construction projects, and gives the public its main opportunity to make objections and suggest alternatives.
Sen. Boxer, normally a pro-environment Democrat, has defended the changes as simply “streamlining” the approval process for water projects, but environmental groups say she is steamrolling over the right of public participation.
Scott Slesinger, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, made this statement regarding the NEPA provisions now being considered by the House-Senate conference committee on the water bill:
“It is deeply disappointing that Sen. Boxer would take this wrong-headed approach to one of our nation's most fundamental environmental laws. She has bought the false argument that environmental reviews are a major cause of the delays and backlogs in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects, when the real problem is lack of funding for infrastructure. NEPA has protected Californians from many ill-advised projects, and ironically, Sen. Boxer herself has used NEPA to call for more thorough environmental reviews of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site in Nevada, and the Keystone XL pipeline to bring tar sands crude from Canada to the Gulf.
“It was through NEPA that the rotting ships in the infamous “ghost fleet” of Suisan Bay were cleaned up in a responsible way without polluting San Francisco Bay with dangerous heavy metals. Sen. Boxer herself helped win that success by obtaining money for an important study of the issue, and praised the final settlement agreement. Yet that achievement might not have been possible with the kinds of restrictions on public input that she wants in the water bill.
“Sen. Boxer seems to think that caving in to the Republicans' anti-environmental agenda on this issue is necessary to pass the water resources bill, but the bill is so popular it doesn't need this legislative grease. Worse, Republicans have already promised to use the anti-NEPA language in the WRDA bill in other legislation affecting offshore drilling, pipeline construction, and energy development on federal lands. There is still time for Sen. Boxer, chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, to be true to her environmental record and strike these provisions from the final bill.”
For more information, see Scott’s blog on this issue: http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/sslesinger/using_water_projects_to_crippl.html