A group of justice and environmental groups sued the Trump administration in an attempt to gut environmental reviews and silence community input. The new rules were introduced by the current administration on July 15.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which was signed into law 50 years ago, requires the federal government to consider all the environmental impacts of each major project and then open it up for both public review and comment. The new rules put forth by the Trump administration under the Council on Environmental Quality would no longer require environmental reviews for such projects as well as eliminate public participation.
“Removing cumulative impacts from NEPA is almost tantamount to removing environmental justice from NEPA,” Dr. Nicky Sheats, a founding member of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, said. “Without the requirement of a cumulative assessment, NEPA provides much less protection for environmental justice communities. This is very troubling for a number of reasons, one being that protections for these communities in NEPA need to be strengthened, not weakened.”
The new rules would also “limit the obligation of agencies to address the climate change implications of their decisions, undercutting the intent of Congress that the government look ahead to prevent avoidable disasters,” according to a press release.
“What is best for big business and Washington lobbyists is rarely what is best for local communities,” Yvette Arellano, grassroots advocate for Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, said. “Putting blinders on, instead of listening to communities when planning projects that affect us, is irresponsible and dangerous. In Houston and the Gulf Coast, we are facing more deadly and destructive hurricanes. Ignoring climate change threatens our lives.”
The plaintiffs called the gutting of NEPA a “giveaway to the fossil fuel industry” leaving the most vulnerable communities exposed to greater environmental harm and structural racism.
“Given the challenges of racial injustice and the COVID pandemic, we need our government to do more to build a healthier society for all of us,” Italia Garcia, interim executive director for the Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, said. “Instead, the Trump administration is working to exacerbate the challenges we face.”
Plaintiffs include Environmental Justice Health Alliance, who filed the case, together with New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Sierra Club and New York Civil Liberties Union. The plaintiffs are represented by attorneys at NRDC.
“We’ve been fighting polluters from day one, sometimes with the help of our government and sometimes in opposition to it,” Taylor Thomas, research and policy analyst for East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, said. “We need the law to work for each of us—not for the interests of polluting industries.”