Great Rivers Environmental Law Center has filed comments challenging the Council on Environmental Quality’s proposed weakening of its regulations implementing the National Environmental Protection Act, or NEPA. Great Rivers is providing pro-bono representation to three state-based organizations: the Missouri Confluence Waterkeepers, the Missouri NAACP, and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.
The changes would threaten local natural resources and exacerbate climate instability.
NEPA currently mandates that all major federal agencies undertaking actions that significantly affect the human environment prepare environmental impact statements. These environmental impact statements must analyze the effects of the proposed action and research any alternatives to the proposed action.
The changes, if implemented, would eliminate NEPA’s requirement that Federal agencies review the cumulative and indirect environmental impacts of proposed federal projects, a change which would lead to far-reaching and dangerous effects to our environment and public health.
While the combined, incremental effects of projects may be insignificant in themselves, they may accumulate over time, resulting in the degradation of our natural resources and in risks to human health. The proposed changes would also allow certain types of projects that have a huge environmental impact to forgo the NEPA process, such as industrial Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations seeking federal loans for the creation and expansion of factory farms.
Great Rivers asserts that the proposed changes would fly in the face of what is the clearly stated intention of the Act, which obligates the Federal Government to “use all practical means… to fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment on behalf of future generations.”
“Agencies cannot possibly act as trustees for the environment on behalf of future generations without considering the cumulative and indirect effects of their proposed actions,” wrote Sarah Rubenstein, lead attorney in Great Rivers’ filing.
A project’s contribution to climate change is another cumulative effect which might no longer be considered.
“By their very nature, the effects of climate change are cumulative,” argued Henry Robertson, co-author of the filing and Climate and Energy Director of the Law Center. “The proposed changes fail to capture the incremental yet global effect of greenhouse gases and thus miss NEPA’s point entirely.”
The changes would loosen requirements on decisions for permit applications, the adoption of federal land management actions, and the construction of highways, pipelines or other publicly-owned facilities.
The comment review period ended on March 10. The CEQ has offered no indication as to when or if it intends to issue a final regulation, but if it does, the parties submitting comments may file suit to challenge the regulations.
Great Rivers Environmental Law Center is a Missouri-based public interest law firm that provides free and reduced-fee services to individuals, organizations and citizen groups working to protect the environment and public health. We receive no government funding and rely on donations to sustain our work.