Press Release

STATEMENT: NEPA Rollback Would Stifle Speech and Spur Pollution, Environmental Justice and National Environmental Groups Charge

Jake Thompson
jthompson@nrdc.org  202-289-2387

Ari Drennen
zdrennen@americanprogress.org, 202-741-6372

Washington — The Trump administration’s move to undermine a foundational environmental protection would largely silence the public and expose low-income communities, tribal communities, and communities of color to a disproportionate amount of harmful pollution, according to a coalition of U.S. environmental justice and environmental groups.

The leadership of the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform, which includes environmental justice and environmental groups across the country, strongly opposed the administration’s plan to gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in formal comments submitted on the proposal.

This marks the coalition’s first high-profile public action since it launched last July to promote equitable and just solutions to the climate crisis and protect the health, safety and well-being of all communities—especially those that have been marginalized historically—through federal climate and environmental policy. Members of the coalition said in a joint statement:

All communities have a right to live free from exposure to dangerous toxic pollution in their soil as well as in the air they breathe, the food they eat, and the water they drink. Yet persistent racial and economic inequalities have concentrated toxic polluters near and within communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income communities. Instead of striving to overcome those injustices, the Trump administration—with its NEPA rollback that would curb speech and boost dangerous pollution—would make things worse.

We oppose this egregious move and urge the administration to instead advance a climate policy agenda that reduces the disproportionate amount of pollution often found in environmental justice communities and that is associated with cumulative impacts, public health risks, and other persistent challenges.

And if this administration’s sham public process on this rollback—where they held only two public hearings and provided a mere 60 days to comment on a sweeping proposed regulatory change—is any indication, this rule will be devastating to our communities.

The Equitable and Just National Climate Platform was co-authored and signed last summer when a dozen environmental justice organizations and six national environmental groups came together to overcome historic injustices and develop equitable and just climate solutions. The platform was signed by 250 national environmental and environmental justice groups and seeks to advance the goals of economic, racial, climate, and environmental justice to boost the health and vitality of all communities while fighting to slow, stop, and reverse climate change.

The administration’s NEPA proposal would curb the ability of the public to comment, raise concerns, or offer alternatives to proposed major federal projects such as highways, bridges, pipelines, and publicly owned facilities. It would also end a long-standing rule requiring federal agencies to analyze the combined or cumulative environmental harm before approving a new project.

These measures could shut out voices from affected communities and lead to an increase in pollution, especially in economically disadvantaged communities, tribal communities, and communities of color. These groups are disproportionately exposed to toxic pollution and are most affected by the increasingly severe storms, wildfires, floods, and heat waves fueled by climate change.

The administration’s drive to weaken NEPA is precisely why the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform came together: to protect the right of all people and communities to clean air, safe drinking water, healthy food, and the benefits of a vibrant, clean economy.

The signatories believe that the communities that bear the greatest burdens of pollution, climate change, and economic inequality should lead the way in shaping the solutions needed to address the climate crisis and environmental racism as well as to achieve a just climate future.

The national climate platform, including additional environmental justice inaugural signatories, can be found at AJustClimate.org.

The coalition’s public comments on the proposed NEPA rollback are here: https://www.nrdc.org/resources/equitable-just-national-climate-platform-file-comments-opposing-nepa-rollback

Environmental justice and national environmental leaders’ statements on NEPA rollback

Delma Bennett and Christine Bennett, residents of historic Mossville, Louisiana, fighting against the legacy pollution that has plagued their community since the 1950s and affiliates of Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform: “The National Environmental Policy Act’s passage in the 1970s was historic—the whole point was for the government to start to think about people like us, think about the impact that you can have before building a major project. This proposal is appalling and the exact opposite of the direction we need to be going in. You will end up with many more communities suffering like us.”

Dr. Mildred McClain, executive director, Harambee House/Citizens For Environmental Justice: “The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposal to change the National Environmental Policy Act will be detrimental to environmental justice communities. We face multiple sources of pollution that, when examined in totality, increase our risk for significant health harms including respiratory illnesses, cancer, and premature death. These risks will be exacerbated if the CEQ eliminates the requirement that federal agencies study the cumulative effects of a project, allows industry to prepare its own environmental impact statements, or relaxes conflict of interest policies for federal contractors. We do not want the fox guarding the hen house and ask the CEQ to protect and strengthen NEPA in a way that ensures transparency and community engagement. Do not take away our democratic right to participate in decisions that will impact our current lives and future generations.”

Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice: “Millions of Americans do not have access to clean air and water or the opportunity to live, learn, play or work in a toxic-free environment. The National Environmental Policy Act has been a tool to mitigate further environmental degradation in our communities and to combat new aggressions against our health and quality of life. We do not accept that the proposed changes to NEPA are an effort to ‘modernize’ this bedrock environmental protection in a way that will honor and support those on the frontlines of environmental racism, climate change or economic injustices. The changes proposed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality are a thinly veiled effort to advance large-scale projects, such as pipelines, highways and bridges, that will benefit polluters without considering the cumulative and life-altering impacts on affected communities. We are calling for a focus shift that preserves and strengthens NEPA to build an even stronger protection that places the needs of all our communities ahead of industry.”

Beverly L. Wright, PhD, executive director, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, said: “Our work takes place in the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor and Gulf Coast Region where the risk of cancer from industrial pollution is 50 times higher than the national average. We know the enormity of the fight to have our voices heard by elected officials, federal agencies and corporate polluters when permits are being renewed and new facilities are being considered. The National Environmental Policy Act has given us a systematic framework for responding to these environmental threats and hazards in a way that brings parity to the process. The steps being taken to weaken NEPA and disempower communities are egregious and a travesty. If NEPA is gutted, the impact in New Orleans, along the Mississippi River, and in the Gulf Region will be devastating and will further harm us in ways that can not be articulated or quantified. We do not support the proposed changes to NEPA and ask the White House Council on Environmental Quality to preserve this important barrier that protects all communities.”

Dr. Cecilia Martinez, co-founder and Executive Director at the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED), said:  “Simply put, the Trump administration’s proposed changes to the NEPA regulations would be devastating for the climate and for communities who are already  disproportionately impacted by legacies of toxic pollution. We know that the health of communities and environmental and climate justice are intertwined, and that in order to improve both we need to be investing in equitable and just climate solutions—and yet the Trump administration is doing the exact opposite with this rollback. These changes are unacceptable to the communities who’s lives, safety and well-being are already threatened by the Trump administration’s rollbacks of public health and environmental protection, and we will not be silenced.”

Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president for Energy and Environment Policy at the Center for American Progress: “Millions of people in this country live in toxic environments as a direct result of environmental racism. Instead of trying to clean up the legacy pollution that is poisoning these communities, this administration is attempting to use NEPA to silence their voices, ignore the impacts of climate change, and speed the construction of pipelines. The devastating impacts of these changes will overwhelmingly fall on communities of color, and that is simply unacceptable. We should be working to equitably strengthen the protections for our air, water, and climate—not replace them with a hasty process dreamed up by oil company lobbyists.”

Abigail Dillen, president of Earthjustice: “The National Environmental Policy Act gives us a crucial say in federal decisions that directly impact our health and safety. It’s an essential tool to check environmental racism and climate change, while forcing our government to face facts. Leave it to the Trump administration to attack our core safeguard against corruption and pollution. We will fight as long as it takes to stop this lawless administration from gutting NEPA.”

Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters: “These changes to NEPA would have dire implications for mitigating climate change and access to clean air, land, and water, especially in low-wealth communities and communities of color, which are the most impacted by climate change and toxic pollution. While we recognize the need to address our nation’s crumbling infrastructure, these improvements cannot be made at the expense of public input and the voices of disenfranchised communities.”

Gina McCarthy, president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council: “Americans deserve to have their voices heard when our government is considering putting their families’ health and well-being at risk. For 50 years, NEPA has been one of the most significant tools we have to keep polluters out of our neighborhoods—now is the time to strengthen it, not weaken it. Undoing these bedrock protections would do real harm to the health and livelihood of people nationwide, with economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color bearing the heaviest burden. We live in a democracy, not a dictatorship. Our groups will work together to fight this administration’s attempts to silence us.”

Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists: “The changes that the administration wants to make to environmental review are inexcusable and disgraceful. NEPA is the most important tool we have to ensure that environmental impacts, including cumulative burdens on all communities, are front and center when we consider funding and permitting major projects in the United States. Without robust science and stakeholder engagement informing our decisions, we fly blind and put public health at risk.”

Equitable & Just National Climate Platform co-authors and inaugural signatories 

Center for American Progress, Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, Center for the Urban Environment, John S. Watson Institute for Public Policy, Thomas Edison State University, Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, Earthjustice, Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform, Harambee House/Citizens for Environmental Justice, League of Conservation Voters, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Los Jardines Institute, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, Midwest Environmental Justice Network, Natural Resources Defense Council, New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, ReGenesis Project, Sierra Club, Tishman Environment and Design Center at the New School, Union of Concerned Scientists, WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Environmental justice organization inaugural signatories

2BRIDGE CDX / BTB Coalition, Agricultura Cooperative Network, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, Black Environmental Collective-Pittsburgh, Black Millennials 4 Flint, Black Youth Leadership Development Institute, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, Citizens for Melia, Clean Power Lake County, Coalition of Community Organizations, Community Housing and Empowerment Connections, Community Members for Environmental Justice, Concerned Citizens Coalition of Long Branch, Concerned Citizens of Wagon Mound and Mora County, Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, Dakota Wicohan, Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice, Dr. Cesar G. Abarca, Dr. Fatemeh Shafiei, Dr. Marisol Ruiz, Dr. Robert Bullard, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Eduardo Aguiar, El Chante: Casa de Cultura, Farmworker Association of Florida, Flint Rising, Georgia Statewide Network for Environmental Justice and Equity, Greater Newark Conservancy, Green Door Initiative, Greenfaith, Ironbound Community Corporation, Jesus People Against Pollution, Las Pistoleras Instituto Cultural de Arte, Lenape Indian Tribe of Delaware, Louisiana Democracy Project, Minority Workforce Development Coalition, Mossville Community in Action, Native Justice Coalition, Organizacion en California de Lideres Campesinas, Inc., Partnership for Southern Equity, People Concerned About Chemical Safety, People for Community Recovery, PODER, Rev. Canon Lloyd S. Casson, Rubbertown Emergency ACTion, Tallahassee Food Network, Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, Texas Drought Project, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, The Wise Choice, Inc., Tradish “Traditional Real Foods,” Tusconians for a Clean Environment, UrbanKind Institute, We the People of Detroit, West County Toxics Coalition, Wisconsin Green Muslims

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The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at NRDC.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​

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