Major Environmental Review Law Under Attack

Proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) would restrict review of long-term environmental impacts on major federal projects like pipelines and dams. File photo: Pixabay.

NEW YORK — Environmental groups testified this week in opposition to proposals they say would drastically weaken a critical law that protects communities as well as wildlife.

For 50 years, the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, has given the public a chance to weigh in on major federal projects such as roads, bridges and pipelines that have an impact on their health and safety.

But Jessie Ritter, director of water resources and coastal policy at the National Wildlife Federation, says changes proposed by the Trump administration would limit the number of projects that would be reviewed, and restrict the types of impacts that can be evaluated, including long-term impacts.

“It removes the impetus for us to think about how any new federal projects are resilient in the face of things like changing seas and a changing climate, and increased natural hazards,” she points out.

The administration maintains changing NEPA would reduce paperwork and delays on major projects. The public comment period on the changes ends on March 10.

Ritter points out that under the proposed changes, federal agencies would no longer have to do any new scientific research on the potential environmental impact of a project.

“It actually allows project applicants to write their own environmental reviews, without any conflict-of-interest safeguards,” she states.

Ritter adds the changes also would require any public comments to include more detailed, technical analysis of a project’s potential adverse impacts.

Ritter says NEPA has served as the foundation of reasonable and balanced protections, for communities and for the environment, since it was enacted in 1978.

“It’s about transparency and good governance, and it’s about science-based decision making and considering the full implications before we take action,” she states. “It’s just common sense.”

Ritter says if the federal Council on Environmental Quality goes forward with the proposed changes, they will be challenged in court.

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