Defending the Role of Science and the Public in Federal Decision-making

Deadline for Public Comments on this Rollback Notice

March 10, 2020 

Read the Proposal @ https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/01/10/2019-28106/update-to-the-regulations-implementing-the-procedural-provisions-of-the-national-environmental

Comment on the Notice @ https://www.regulations.gov/ and search for Docket ID #  CEQ-2019-0003

Public Hearings: The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) held a public hearing on February 11, 2020 at EPA’s Region 8 Offices at 1595 Wynkoop Street, Denver, Colorado.

See public hearing testimony of Save EPA participant Carol Campbell HERE.

And in Washington DC at the US Department of the Interior, Yates Auditorium 1849 C Street NW.

Advanced registration is required of all who wish to attend. Additional information @ https://www.whitehouse.gov/ceq/nepa-modernization/

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

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Trump Administration Rollback

NEPA, passed in 1970, requires that the federal government assess the environmental consequences of “major federal actions” and provide the public an opportunity to weigh in on these decisions through public hearings and public comment.  Major federal actions can include projects with significant environmental consequences that have federal funding or that require federal approval.  Examples can include new highways, bridges, levees, or power plants. 

NEPA requires informed decisions.  It does not require that an agency choose the options that are the least environmentally damaging, but it does require that it consider alternatives that could cause less harm to the environment. 

The proposed rule would relax the requirements of NEPA by limiting the number of projects subjects to NEPA, by curtailing the review of environmental impacts, and by limiting the opportunities for the public to weigh in.

Much of the language in the proposal is vague, allowing federal actors great latitude in what projects to subject to environmental review, what impacts should be included, and what opportunities citizens would have to weigh in. If this proposal is made a final rule, many projects that otherwise would have been subject to NEPA review may be approved without consideration of the environmental impacts and without public participation.   

But even for those projects that would still be reviewed, the rule would impose a set of arbitrary limitations on the number of pages for a review and the amount of time that a review can take.  The impacts subject to review to those that are “reasonably foreseeable and have a reasonably close causal relationship to the proposed action.”  It adds that effects are not be considered significant if they are remote in time or geography, or the result of a lengthy causal chain. It also specifically removes the requirements that cumulative effects be considered. 

These requirements will dramatically limit what needs to be considered by a federal agency and what the public will see.  Many environmental impacts of a project occur far from the site of the project because pollution knows no borders and some effects take place far in the future.  These requirements also appear to make consideration of climate change beyond the scope of NEPA even though many major federal actions do have climate change impacts, such as permits for oil and gas drilling or for new power plants. In fact, these requirements are so vague that they could serve to eliminate large numbers of projects from NEPA review.  

The proposal argues that the changes are necessary because, in the words of the acting OMB director, “NEPA has been used as a tool to slow or kill important infrastructure projects across the country.”  Andrew Wheeler, EPA’s Administrator said that this proposal would streamline “duplicative and costly regulation that impede investment in American infrastructure and stifle economic growth.” [i]

To put it in prospective, only 5% of federally funded or permitted projects are subject to NEPA at all and fewer than 1% require a full environmental review, according to the Government Accountability Office.[ii]These are the projects that have significant environmental impact.  NEPA is intended to assure that federal agencies consider alternatives and ways to mitigate harm, and that the public has a voice on such projects.  

What to Say

First, explain why you’re commenting on this notice – why it is important to you that federal agencies fully consider the environmental consequences of their decisions and that citizens have adequate information and time to be involved in federal decision-making. 

If you have relevant expertise, say so. You don’t have to be an expert to make a valid and valuable comment, but if you do have expertise, share your knowledge.

If you have information or experience relevant to the rule (for example, experience being active in federal decision-making about a project that affects you) talk about that. If you are just a concerned citizen, talk about your concerns.

Be constructive and civil.  Don’t write a lot if less will do. 

Suggested Talking Points

CEQ is proposing changes to NEPA’s implementing regulations to save developers time and money while depriving federal agencies full consideration of the environmental impacts of proposed development, and depriving affected and concerned citizens an opportunity to fully engage in decisions about projects that will affect them.

I (we) strongly object to the proposed revisions because:

The proposal would limit on the timing and page length of environmental reviews will limit the information that the government will have as it considers projects with serious environmental impacts.  

The proposal would limit on the timing and page length of environmental reviews is arbitrary and will limit the information that citizens will have about projects that concern them. 

CEQ’s proposal will cut many projects out of NEPA review entirely including those with impacts that are cumulative, or that are a distance from the project, or are at the end of a fairly long causal chain, or that take time to manifest.  There is no scientifically sound rationale for refusing to consider such impacts.  Federal decision-making will suffer as a result. 

Among the impacts that may be left out of NEPA reviews are the climate change impacts.  In fact, CEQ explicitly asks for comments on eliminating draft guidance on considering climate change impacts.  Climate change threatens the health and welfare of people in the US and around the world.  It is the most serious environmental crisis we have faced.  To ignore it in NEPA reviews is irresponsible and unfounded.

In the end, the purpose of NEPA is to promote better decisions about projects that involve major federal action and affect the environment.  This proposed revisions to NEPA regulations would undermine that purpose. 

For additional and more detailed talking points on the proposal, see the public hearing comments of Save EPA participant Carol Campbell HERE.

How to Submit Your Comments

CEQ will accept written comments on the proposal until 11:59 p.m. eastern time on March 10, 2020.  To submit comments online, click on the following link:  https://regulations.gov and search for Docket ID No. CEQ-2019-0003

If you wish to submit comment by mail, email or by fax, see directions in the proposal notice @ https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/FR-2020-01-10/pdf/2019-28106.pdf

All comments should be identified by the following docket number: CEQ-2019-0003

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 EPA’s existing statements 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.

_______________

Endnotes:

[i] Executive Office of the President, Press Release: CEQ Issues Proposed Rule to Modernize its NEPA Regulations, undated. https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/20200120-Final-NPRM-Press-Release.pdf

[ii] GAO, National Environmental Policy Act , Little Information Exists on NEPA Analyses, Report to Congressional Requesters, April 2014.  https://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-14-370

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