Administration Proposes NEPA Overhaul
Need to maintain strong scientific standards, public engagement
The Trump administration today proposed several changes in the regulation governing how the federal government fulfills its obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The law, enacted in 1970, requires the federal government to assess the environmental and other impacts of federal actions like permitting infrastructure projects prior to making final decisions. The changes proposed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality include cutting down review times, limiting consideration of factors like climate change from NEPA analysis, allowing some developers to do their own reviews and expanding the use of categorical exclusions that eliminate further impact analysis for certain-sized projects.
The following is a statement by Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer at The Nature Conservancy:
“The National Environmental Policy Act is one of the United States’ foundational environmental laws, responsible for helping improve the quality of our air, water and ecosystems while giving members of the public a greater voice in the health and future of their communities. The best way to achieve more efficient and effective project decisions is to work collaboratively to identify environmental issues early in the design process. Setting arbitrary, time-certain deadlines for completion of project reviews and simply limiting the scope of projects and impacts that must be considered will not improve the quality of NEPA analysis, will do little to increase efficiency and does not address underlying issues of agency cooperation and stakeholder engagement.
“With climate change impacts bringing severe consequences to many communities across the nation, NEPA provides a tool for assessing how actions affect greenhouse gas emissions and the impacts of climate change to people, their livelihoods and the environment. We recognize the challenges and complexity of such assessments, particularly for indirect impacts, but those challenges are not a reason to neglect or avoid such analysis, as these changes propose.
“The Nature Conservancy continues to support efforts to improve the NEPA process on the ground. However, several of the changes proposed today would reduce the law’s safeguards, transparency and inclusiveness. To deliver on the basic purpose of NEPA – ensuring federal agencies consider the environmental consequences of their actions and inform the public about them – we need to retain strong scientific standards, support thorough analysis and continue robust public engagement. We urge the administration to reconsider proposed changes that will not improve the process but instead will move NEPA away from its intended purpose.
“When the administration first set out to reassess how it should enforce NEPA, we provided a number of detailed recommendations to achieve many of the goals articulated through better implementation and enforcement of existing regulations rather than a broad overhaul. As we analyze the administration’s proposal, we encourage the administration to reexamine those recommendations and the tools already at its disposal rather than inventing new ones to reform NEPA.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.