Last month, President Donald Trump chose to celebrate the 50th anniversary of our nation’s landmark environmental law — the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) — with a plan to virtually demolish it.
Trump, who has assailed nearly 100 of the country’s environmental rules since taking office, according to The New York Times, proposed the changes to “modernize” NEPA. If they are adopted, it would be an epic assault on the public’s say in how our country’s lands and resources are developed.
For starters, the changes deeply undercut the public’s interest. Trump deleted the guiding language in NEPA to “encourage and facilitate public involvement in decisions which affect the quality of the human environment.” New language would allow federal agencies to set schedules for NEPA reviews that potentially can’t be met by tribes, other cooperating agencies or the public.
Criteria to hold public meetings where there is substantial interest or controversy have been deleted. For federal actions like the Alaska Roadless Rule, new information that emerges after the public comment period has ended will no longer be considered. To make public participation even harder, you’ll now be required to cite page numbers, supporting studies, and other information to back up your comments.
If ratcheting down on public involvement wasn’t enough, there are provisions that favor industry. Project developers such as mining companies would be allowed to write their own environmental impact statements, opening the door to minimize the environmental consequences and propose alternatives biased in favor of their project.
NEPA analyses won’t happen for any “non-major” federal actions, although what that means is anyone’s guess, since it’s barely defined in the proposed rule. Also, the requirement to look at all reasonable alternatives to a proposed project would be eliminated, so no need to consider public comments that suggest a better idea.
Among the most grievous of the changes is scrapping the requirement to look at cumulative and indirect effects of a proposed action or project. This means the U.S. Forest Service wouldn’t need to consider how a timber sale in the Tongass National Forest adds to the degradation of deer habitat from logging and road-building over the past 70 years.
The Bureau of Land Management wouldn’t need to assess how oil drilling in the Arctic contributes to climate change, nor likely how climate change will impact oil infrastructure. A project like the Pebble mine wouldn’t have to consider how potential contamination from its operations could impact the Bristol Bay salmon industry.
These changes to NEPA will hit Alaska hardest. We are the largest state in the nation with 220 million acres of federal land, yet Alaskans have been given just 60 days and no public hearing to comment on the proposed rules. If we don’t want to give industry virtual carte blanche to mine our ancestral lands, develop in our salmon watersheds, cut our trees, and drill for fossil fuels without meaningful public involvement and a full look at environmental impacts, we must speak up.
The comment period ends March 10. Visit the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council website and tell the Council on Environmental Quality to extend the comment period 180 days and hold a public hearing in Alaska so the voices of tribes and all Alaskans can be heard.
Don’t let Trump’s plan to clearcut NEPA bring back an era of timber clearcuts, open-pit mines, and oil drilling on the lands we value most.
Sally Schlichting is an environmental policy analyst with the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council and previously worked for the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation for 18 years.
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