Administration Moves Forward to Gut NEPA

New regulations weaken our nation’s cornerstone environmental law. We’re still fighting.

On Wednesday, July 15th, President Trump finalized massive changes to the ways in which federal agencies will follow the nation’s cornerstone environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act. The changes come as comprehensive rollbacks to the environmental review process, making it easier for corporations, big industry, and resource extraction to receive approval on projects like pipelines or road building with minimal levels of public input, science, and examination.

“The Administration’s actions today take the public out of public lands and put industry in charge of deciding the future of the places we ski, hike, camp, and spend time with our families,” says Hilary Eisen, director of policy at Winter Wildlands Alliance. “And this new rule doesn’t just endanger our public lands—it threatens our communities, by letting polluters and developers cut corners and risk public health all across America.” 

Congress must take action to hold the administration accountable and defend the integrity of the National Environmental Policy Act, which Congress passed in an overwhelming bipartisan vote. President Nixon signed the law in 1970. 

This effort to gut the National Environmental Policy Act also raises the stakes of the upcoming election in November. The executive branch holds the authority to reverse this rollback and restore the National Environmental Policy Act.

Outdoor enthusiasts who are passionate about protecting the places they love have sent thousands of letters to representatives in Congress asking them to defend NEPA. It’s not just outdoor recreationists who have spoken up to defend NEPA, though. NEPA is also a fundamental tool for environmental justice that marginalized communities use to fight against pollution or encroaching development, like freeways. Millions of Americans have weighed in on these rollbacks—the overwhelming majority have spoken up in defense of NEPA.  

On Tuesday, Winter Wildlands Alliance sent a letter to Congress asking that they hold a hearing to examine these new regulations and the impact they will have on public health, public lands, and federal agencies’ ability to comply with the spirit and original intention of NEPA. Our letter was also signed by the Access Fund, American Whitewater, Surfrider, the American Alpine Club, Outdoor Alliance, the Outdoor Industry Association, and many more nonprofits and conservation and outdoor recreation advocacy groups.

“[NEPA] is not just a critically important law protecting public lands and waters, and the recreation opportunities that are dependent on environmental integrity, it is a critical law for protecting public health and achieving environmental justice for all,” the letter states. 

The Council on Environmental Quality is the department in the executive branch that oversees how NEPA is implemented by all federal agencies. CEQ’s regulations will affect the decision-making process for agencies including the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, National Parks, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Environmental Protection Agency, and many more.

The new regulations limit the scope of environmental review, removing any requirement that agencies need to weigh a project’s impact with climate change. By eliminating the “cumulative impact” part of the environmental review, federal agencies only need to analyze the more immediate and direct effects of a project and they can ignore the long-lasting impacts on things like carbon emissions. The cumulative impact of a project was essential information that led to recent court decisions halting three major oil pipelines in the United States. 

CEQ’s rollbacks also imposed hard and unreasonable deadlines for environmental reviews, which shifts the emphasis to speed, not accuracy or quality. The regulations state that an environmental impact statement—a massive document that is used to critically analyze big government decisions like, for example, forest plans that guide the management of entire forests for generations—must be completed within one to two years. These plans receive thousands upon thousands of public comments that federal agencies must consider. Under pressure of deadline, officials are likely to streamline this process which will impact their ability to provide quality responses to the public.

“With this rollback, the Trump Administration is attempting to take us backward—back to a time when our natural resources were exploited without hesitation, when industries could pollute without consequence and Americans had little recourse to influence the federal decisions and projects impacting their own communities,” said U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) in a statement. Carper is the leading Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “This rollback undermines the principles of democracy expressed through NEPA that led to stronger environmental quality, better public health and greater public involvement in the federal decision-making process.”

To defend the National Environmental Policy Act and your ability to participate in government decision-making on public lands, write a letter to your representative in Congress and ask them to hold a hearing about the CEQ regulations to NEPA. We’ve made this easy to do with a letter-writing tool right here. Below, you can read the letter we sent to Congress yesterday in full. 

NEPA support letter (House)