President Donald Trump announced sweeping rollbacks to the National Environmental Policy Act in January. The law gives the public an opportunity to be involved in major permitting decisions that affect the environment and public health.
The changes would eliminate the requirement for agencies to review the cumulative impacts of projects like pipelines, power plants and highways, including their impacts on climate change. Additionally, if a highway were proposed for an area that already has poor air quality, the review process would not take the highway’s impact on cumulative neighborhood air quality into account. The proposals would also restrict public comment, impose stricter timelines for reviews and allow agencies to exempt more types of projects from the law.
On Feb. 13, the nonprofit Southern Environmental Law Center filed a preliminary injunction to block the rule change from going into effect, arguing that the Trump administration was failing to provide required public documents about its decision. The administration had said the documents would be made available in November, but the public comment period for the proposed rollback was scheduled to end on March 10.
Supporters of the change have argued it will end unnecessary environmental reviews. Under current law, however, such reviews only occur when the agencies involved declare a proposal will have a significant environmental impact. Of the 50,000 projects that could be subject to environmental review annually, environmental impact assessments are only conducted in 500 cases, according to The Partnership Project, a nonprofit group that opposes the NEPA change.
The Tennessee Valley Authority requested exemptions from NEPA in 2017 that go beyond the current proposals. TVA Public Information Officer Jim Hopson stated in February that the utility plans to finalize those changes soon, and that the White House rule changes would not affect TVA’s process.
To submit a comment on the federal changes, visit regulations.gov and search for Docket ID No. CEQ-2019-0003, or visit protectyourvoicenow.org.