The beginning of 2020 saw the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA was created to ensure that federal agencies assess the long-term environmental impact of major infrastructure projects such as building roads or bridges, laying interstate pipelines, constructing transmission lines and broadband deployment, as well as extracting fossil fuels on public lands and managing forests. For example, the law was used under the Obama administration to stop the Keystone XL pipeline and halt some coal mining efforts.
The Trump administration celebrated this important anniversary last week by announcing that it plans to roll back some important environmental regulations covered by the NEPA. Specifically, the changes would limit the need to assess cumulative environmental climate impact for major projects, limit the types of projects regulated by the law, restrict the number of years impact studies can last and the number of pages any report can contain, and allow companies and developers to conduct environmental assessments on their own instead of by regulators. Communities would also have less input on projects happening in their own backyards.
At the ceremony announcing the changes, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt boasted about the far-reaching effects of the proposal. “Let me tell you, this is a really, really big proposal. The proposal affects virtually every significant decision by the federal government that affects the environment.”
When asked after the ceremony if he thought global warming was a hoax, the president said:
No, no, not at all. Nothing is a hoax. Nothing is a hoax about that. It’s a very serious subject. I want clean air. I want clear water. I want the cleanest air with the cleanest water.
According to the League of Conservation Voters, under current law and rules “agencies must analyze how projects will affect endangered species, water quality, greenhouse gas emissions, and more.” But the new proposed rules would direct federal agencies “to ignore climate change considerations as part of environmental impact reports, among other rollbacks.”
“This means more polluters will be right there, next to the water supply of our children,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “That’s a public health issue… They are going to not use the climate issue as anything to do with environmental decision-making.”
There’s still time for concerned citizens to weigh in on these changes.
Humanists who are concerned about the climate crisis and want to protect our environment can take advantage of the mandatory comment period to express their thoughts about the new rules. Public hearings will be held on the proposed changes in Denver, Colorado, and Washington, DC, next month.
To comment, just go to the AHA’s climate crisis website, HERE for Climate. The website has more information about the AHA’s position on the NEPA changes and directs you to the right place to send your comment to the federal government. The official comment period will close on March 10.
These NEPA changes are not the only important scientific issues that you can weigh in on as a citizen and a voter. Two other important science-based rules you can support are the Preserve Science in Policy Making Act of 2019 (H.R. 4557) and the Scientific Integrity Act (H.R. 1709).
H.R. 4557 was introduced by Congressional Freethought Caucus member Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) and would prevent the president from unilaterally shutting down Federal Advisory Committees without the approval of apolitical civil servants along with a public notice and comment period. These committees, made up of scientists and academics, are crucial components of an evidence-based regulatory process, and the Trump administration has systematically been terminating them with little warning and no satisfactory explanations. H.R. 1709, introduced by Paul Tonko (D-NY), is primarily focused on preventing censorship in scientific areas, including research.