What’s at Risk, How to Comment and Talking Points

The Trump Administration Rollback Notice

The Council on Environmental Quality, an agency in the Office of the President, has issued an advance notice stating that it may revise the regulations for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  NEPA requires that the environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions be assessed, and alternatives examined in a public process.  Major federal actions include projects that are on federal land, or that are funded by the federal government, or that require federal permits.  CEQ’s regulations which set out how to comply with NEPA have not been substantively revised for almost four decades.

The NEPA process ensures that the public is informed about a proposed project and has an opportunity to provide input and voice concerns or support.  It requires that federal agencies examine the environmental impacts of proposed projects as well as the impacts of alternatives to the proposed project to provide decision-makers with adequate information to make informed decisions, including minimizing adverse impacts where possible.  Some project proponents have complained that the process takes too much time and is too costly.

The notice says that it would now like to “update and clarify” the regulations.  It asks for comments based on 20 questions laid out in the notice.  The questions suggest that the changes envisioned may go well beyond an update and clarification and could include a sweeping rollback of substantive features of the NEPA process.

Suggested Talking Points

NEPA and its implementing regulations have been effective in meeting NEPA’s goal of ensuring that productive human activity take place in harmony with the natural environment.  It provides people a voice in the development of projects that affect them.

CEQ should resist altering the existing regulations.  They have worked well for many years, and flexibility can be obtained through guidance and policy rather than regulations which are harder to change or update.

The current regulations are well litigated. Any rewrite would result in new litigation that will cause uncertainty and further delay in implementing the law. 

Although some have complained about the time and effort involved in compliance with NEPA, simplistic solutions like strict page limits and time limits are unrealistic.  Projects vary, some of them are very complicated, have serious impacts on the natural and human environment, and have a great deal of public interest.  One-size-fits all is not realistic,nor is it helpful.

Projects often take more time than they might due to inadequate funding for the agency taking the action, or because information needs to be collected so the decisionmaker can make an informed decision.  Solving the budget issue would help speed up the process. So would care on the part of project proponents to provide adequate information. 

CEQ has effectively usedguidance to ensure that agencieshave the information needed to conduct NEPA reviews. It is not necessary to rewrite the regulations themselves. 

The 20 questions asked in the notice do not contain any discussion of what the existing regulations have to say on each topic, leavingthe faulty impression that the regulations  do not address the issue at all.CEQ should pull back this notice and rewrite it with a full discussion of how the current regulations treat each issue and how CEQ and other agencies have addressed the topic under the current regulations so that commenters can address the questions with greater understanding.  

In general, when agencies take the time to include the public and other interested parties in the NEPA process, the process goes more smoothly and quickly, and parties are more likely to be satisfied with the outcome.  This does not require rewriting the regulations.  Rather it is a smart way to implement them.

For more suggested talking points, see Environmental Protection Network and Save EPA Comment on Possible Revisions of Regulations Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, submitted to CEQ August 10, 2018.

There Is More That You Can Do

 It would be great if well-reasoned, fact-based comments were enough to win the day, but in today's deregulatory environment, raising the political stakes of regulatory rollbacks is crucial to stopping or slowing them down.  Submitting comments is a good first step. For rules that are particularly important to you, please consider taking one or more of the following steps, too. These methods can help to mobilize public opinion and spur elected leaders to fight the destructive changes that the Trump Administration is promoting.

Write to your members of Congress and other elected officials.  Let them know your concerns and ask them to weigh in on this rollback and speak out publicly in favor CEQs existing practices on this issue.  These links make it easy to write your members of Congress (your representative in the House of Representatives and your two senators).  If you're willing to register with Countable, this link -- https://www.countable.us/ -- allows you to identify your members of Congress and send a message to all three at once.  Or, you can write them separately -- you can use https://whoismyrepresentative.com/ or https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials/ to find your members' email contact forms or snail mail addresses.

Let your state officials know that you are concerned about this issue.  Write to your elected leaders, get involved with local activists who are encouraging local or state action.  Voice your concern and encouragement in the media, social media, at local meetings, and at every opportunity.  In the absence of federal leadership, it is vitally important that states and local governments fill the void.

Write letters to the editor and even op-eds in your local papers.  Letters to the editor should be fairly brief.

Organize or participate in campaigns to make phone calls or write letters to members of Congress and make phone calls to radio stations during call-in days, or take other actions to spread the word.

Inform your local officials about these issues and ask them to make a public statement or submit comments on a proposed rollback if your jurisdiction has a stake in these issues. Bring up these issues at town hall meetings.

Spread the word via social media.  Tag your elected officials so they know how you feel.

Join or organize demonstrations.

Talk to your friends, colleagues and neighbors and encourage them to comment and otherwise join in this effort.

Vote.

Link For More Information

CEQ’s existing NEPA regulations can be found in the Code of Federal Regulations at 10 C.F.R. Parts 1500-1508.  https://www.energy.gov/sites/prod/files/NEPA-40CFR1500_1508.pdf

 

 

 

 

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