Strong Environmental Review Protects Us All!

nepa infrastructure

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), is a monumental law passed in 1970 to ensure that decisions made by federal agencies that will impact the environment are made in a transparent, well-informed manner. It requires agencies to take a “hard look” at the potential impacts of their decisions, consider other available alternatives, and provide the public a meaningful opportunity to weigh in during the decision-making process.

The NEPA process is incredibly valuable. By requiring the federal government to study the impacts of its decisions and share the information with the public, it informs communities and allows them to provide information that the government may have missed. Studying impacts and reasonable alternatives to a proposed project also helps prevent the federal government from plowing forward with inefficient plans or ones that will unfairly impact disadvantaged communities – and can save taxpayer money. Additionally, NEPA is now being used to push the federal government to thoroughly consider climate impacts of its decisions, especially those related to permitting fossil fuel projects.

Companies forced to cooperate with government agencies in the NEPA process often see NEPA as a time-consumptive and expensive burden. While NEPA can slow down permitting, the delay is often very valuable. It gives the government time to take the required hard look and the public time to understand environmental impacts and organize to protect their communities. President Trump and his administration have chosen to side with companies that want to ram their projects forward as quickly as possible and are trying to weaken NEPA’s protections. The President’s executive order on infrastructure wrongly blames our neglected national infrastructure on delays caused by environmental reviews and orders federal agencies to “streamline” this process. In reality, the main reason our necessary infrastructure is neglected is a lack of funding. The executive order also defines “infrastructure” so loosely that projects such as fossil fuel pipelines or power plants — the primary purpose of which is not to satisfy a public need, but rather to increase company profits — would also benefit from faster permitting.

Federal agencies are already acting on the President’s mandate. The U.S. Department of Interior has issued an order imposing arbitrary time and page limits on environmental reviews, and the Council on Environmental Quality, the federal agency in charge of implementing NEPA, announced that it is rewriting its NEPA regulations and guidelines. Imposing arbitrary deadlines and page limits will cause environmental reviews to be rushed and less thorough. This impact is compounded by the fact that many agencies in charge of doing environmental reviews are already understaffed and likely will face further cuts. This will give companies that want to push through destructive projects for profit an upper hand, as the public will have less information and fewer opportunities to engage with government in vital decisions that will affect the health and quality of life of their communities.

Unfortunately, Congress also is playing a role in weakening NEPA protections. Bills seeking to fast-track pipelines and dams target the environmental review process, while S. 1756, the “Rebuild America Now Act,” seeks to turn much of President Trump’s Executive Order into law.

We will be tracking all these efforts to weaken environmental review. In the meantime, Members of Congress need to hear that their constituents know NEPA is more than just paperwork. This week, please call your Members of Congress and let them know you support NEPA’s environmental review process:

“My name is [YOUR NAME] and I am a resident of ZIP code [ZIP CODE]. I am calling today because I am concerned about attacks on National Environmental Policy Act protections. Requiring the federal government to thoroughly review the environmental impacts of projects before approving them stops environmental disasters before they happen. NEPA also helps the federal government make better-informed decisions, preventing waste of taxpayer money. The environmental review process also ensures that the government is transparent and takes into account concerns from the public. The only people that benefit from limiting environmental review and weakening NEPA are companies that want to ram forward destructive projects with as little scrutiny as possible. Therefore, I am asking you to vote against any bills that would weaken or speed up the federal government’s environmental review process, such as Senate Bill 1756. Furthermore, I urge you to support building and fixing infrastructure that actually benefits the public, such as clean water infrastructure, by voting for bills that would provide the funding needed for these kinds of projects. Thank you.”

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