Tues 3/10: A dirty fossil fuel facility could be coming to a site near you & there will be nothing you can do. Comment ON NEPA! Tonight, by 11:59 pm EST.

Also due tonight – Proposed rule to alter the Community Investment Act to favor banks over poor communities here.

Write a comment to protect our voice and our environment.

On the 50th anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), President Trump issued a shot across the bow proclamation that resolved to block “modernize” this fundamental environmental policy that allows us a voice in government decisions affecting our wildlife and our right to clean air and water. The proposed rule changes are a return to the dark days, when we stood by powerlessly while federal dollars funded the destruction of homes, and the natural environment, and destructive projects like highways sliced up communities, especially those of color. This proposal silences people, hides projects from review, denies the importance of climate change and allows polluters to write their own reviews (think “Boeing”).

  • Comment here.
  • Proposal here
  • Other comments for inspiration only here. It takes just a few seconds to see a bunch of form letters. IDENTICAL COMMENTS WILL BE PURGED! Reuse facts at will but please take a few minutes to find your own voice.

Deeper Dive

Since 1970, NEPA has ensured that climate, environmental and community impacts of federal infrastructure projects are considered before approval, including constuction of new highways, bridges, pipelines and coal export terminals and that the public has a voice in the process. “Prior to NEPA, communities were being bulldozed to create highways, oil spills were occurring on public land. There was limited to no transparency of what was occurring in your own backyard by the government and limited coordination among government agencies.”- Stephanie Gidigbi, NRDC.

But Trump is tired of having his polluter lobbyists and their friends stopped in courts.

Some notable changes in the administration’s proposed rule change…

(List from weact.org, NYTimes and americanprogress)

  • Limiting Public Participation: Community oversight was one of the prime drivers behind the creation of NEPA. The Trump administration wants to reduce public overview – shortening the amount of time people have to read and respond to environmental studies and assessments by 33%, and the public commentary period from 45 days to just 30 days.
    • These documents can be hundreds of pages long, and are often highly technical. Reducing the amount of time people have to fully understand these critical documents and their implications for their community will severely hamper a community’s ability to challenge the proposal and mount of well-conceived defense.
    • It also removes the advantage of local expertise, which could save projects costly mistakes.
  • Eliminating cumulative impacts and decreasing environmental justice: NEPA currently requires cumulative effects to be considered. That means if there is already a facility emitting the maximum-allowable amount of a particular chemical emission, the review process would have to take into consideration that any proposed new facilities that plan on emitting any amount of that same chemical would result in the community being exposed to cumulative levels of that pollutant that exceed the standards for safety. Under the proposed changes, “cumulative impacts” – (i.e. “Effects should not be considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain.”) would no longer be taken into consideration.
    • Climate change effects, which accounts for stronger hurricanes, sea level rise, and more severe wildfires, are, by definition, often far removed both geographically and temporally from the human causes of climate change. With this new definition, “climate change” is neatly removed from consideration without having to specifically say it.
    • Removing the requirement for cumulative effects analysis is a huge win for polluting industries and could lead to quick rubber stamping of fossil fuel projects. This is particularly bad news for poorer communities, which tend to already have existing facilities producing pollution.
    • Our current NEPA rules on cumulative effect is currently stopping oil drilling in Wyoming and the Keystone pipeline, which has been blocked by a federal court.
    • For many species, the story of their decline is one of “death by a thousand cuts,” the loss of a population here, an important habitat over there. The importance of looking at the effects of an action not in isolation, but in the context of the additive impacts of other actions that could impact the species, has been at the core of NEPA analysis for its entire history.” (defenders.org)(audubon.org)
  • Ignoring “indirect effects:Not only do the proposed regulations state that a cumulative effects analysis is not required, but they also would allow agencies and fossil fuel companies to completely disregard potential “indirect” effects of federal actions. To achieve this, the Trump administration writes, “CEQ proposes to make amendments to simplify the definition of effects by … striking the specific references to direct, indirect, and cumulative effects.” (see p. 1708) For example, downstream water pollution from a coal mine or drilling operation would not be assessed. (americanprogress.org)
  • Categorical Exclusions: Currently, case law dictates that agencies have to conduct environmental review for “major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.” So if a federal action is relatively minor but has a significant environmental impact, or vice versa, a review must be completed.The proposed changes would also allow the government to give certain types of developers a free pass or even to write their own review.
    • Loopholes for graft abound: For example, if the government opts to hire a federal contractor to do the work, they will not have to abide by NEPA since technically it’s no longer the federal government doing the project – even though they are fully-funding it.
    • No second look: The new rules would allow the adoption of other agency’s exclusions without further analysis if projects are deemed “similar.” Many low-income and communities of color already have destructive uses in their neighborhoods, which open the door to more.
    • Exclusions are damaging: Examples of categorically excluded activities include oil and gas leases, and grazing rights, an incredibly destructive use,  on more than 155 million acres of public land—and many Native American archaeological sites.
    • “My project is PERFECT!”: The administration is proposing to allow companies to conduct their own environmental review, under the guise of allowing interested parties to “assume a greater role in contributing information and material to the preparation of environmental documents, subject to the supervision of the agency.” Currently, environmental assessments and environmental impact statements are prepared or contracted out by federal agencies, with strict guidelines to prevent financial conflicts of interest.
      • Just a reminder – The Federal Aviation Administration largely delegated testing and certification of Boeing’s 737 Max jets to the company itself. Subsequently, two of these new planes fatally crashed within five months of each other, leading to the grounding of the entire fleet and significant controversy.

Reading

  • One Resolution we must fight against (NRDC)
  • Trump rule would exclude climate change in infrastructure planning (NYTimes)
  • Never eliminate public advice “NEPA SUCCESS STORIES” (NRDC)
  • 5 Ways Trump’s Latest Anti-Environmental Proposal Would Allow Fossil Fuel Companies to Bulldoze Communities (americanprogress)

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