Why Do We Need to Save the National Environmental Policy Act?
In early January, the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality proposed to rewrite the rules of the National Environmental Policy Act. The overhaul is an attempt to streamline the environmental review process in such a way that benefits polluters and big corporations and strips apart the rigorous and transparent process of decision-making that has been in place for 50 years. This fits with the President’s agenda to deregulate the environment, making it easier to drill, mine, and otherwise extract fossil fuels and natural resources from America’s most fragile landscapes, in the name of energy dominance.
The National Environmental Policy Act needs our help. Winter Wildlands Alliance was founded to “protect and preserve” winter landscapes, and the National Environmental Policy Act is the law that grants us the ability to do so. CEQ’s proposal to gut the National Environmental Policy Act defies common sense and science as our planet succumbs to climate change. It is the game piece that will make the rest of our nation’s environmental institutions crumble.
The New York Times has methodically updated a list of climate policies and environmental rules that the Trump administration has steadily dismantled in four short years. Whether it’s rolling back the rules that protect clean air and water, attacking the Endangered Species Act, or weakening protections for public lands, the sheer scope of the administration’s effort to tear apart this country’s environmental institutions is stunning. In 2020, that list counts more than 100 strikes. However, of them all, the attacks on the National Environmental Policy Act cut the deepest. The National Environmental Policy Act is the foundation upon which many of those other environmental rules stand.
Earlier this year, when the CEQ proposal was revealed to the public, Winter Wildlands Alliance Policy Director Hilary Eisen said it would effectively undo 50 years of environmental progress and usher us into a world many alive today have never seen before. For a glimpse of what Eisen is talking about, look back 50 years, to the months just before Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act, when oil contaminants caused the Cuyahoga River in Ohio to catch fire. That is a nightmare scenario we thought we’d never see again. Now we’re not so sure. Under this administration, land protections for places like Bears Ears and Grand Escalante have been stripped so energy companies could drill and mine. The legacy of the Roadless Rule, protecting some of the last untouched expanses in our nation, is being attacked, so timber companies can harvest old growth forest in the Tongass. The National Environmental Policy Act is how we can speak up for the places we care about, the places we love most, the places that give us mountains to climb and ski down, as well as protect the air we breathe and the water we drink.
The administration’s strategy to overhaul the National Environmental Policy Act is effective. They are rewriting the rules in a way that will bypass Congress. While the Council on Environmental Quality accepted public comment on their proposal, we expect the administration to favor corporate interests over the public’s and continue with their agenda.
We have to get the attention of Congress. We must ask our representatives to hold the White House accountable. Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act in an overwhelming bipartisan vote, and now they must help us save it. The pandemic has rightly taken a top priority for Congress, and yet, as the nation focuses on responding to and recovering from the covid-19 pandemic, the administration keeps ramping up its attack on the environment.
Our representatives need to hear from their constituents—that’s you and us—about the urgent need to protect the National Environmental Policy Act. Ask your representatives to exercise their oversight duties and review and monitor the White House as they finalize the new regulations for the National Environmental Policy Act.
If you’d like to learn more about what these proposed regulations look like, Eisen walked us through part of the proposal in detail earlier this year. We’ve made it easy to send a letter to your representative to ask them to defend the National Environmental Policy Act. Fill out the form. If you’d like to write your own letter or customize the template we’ve provided, please do so. Or you can just send it as is. The form will automatically send your letter to your congresspeople. Thanks for your help in this fight. We will keep you updated.