February 25, 2020
Testifying to Protect Our Voices and the Environment with NEPA
Today I testified on behalf of ELPC before the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) at their second and final public hearing on its rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
ELPC testified in strong opposition to CEQ’s proposed changes to NEPA regulations. The current regulations are thoughtful, well-designed, and provide for the successful implementation of NEPA. They have provided important guidance to federal agencies for decades.
First, CEQ should afford the public more opportunities for public hearings and more time to comment.
ELPC and 54 Great Lakes groups representing a broad range of interests submitted a letter asking for more time to comment and more hearings, including one in the Great Lakes region. Our groups share the urgency of protecting the Great Lakes which contain 21% of the world’s fresh water supply and provide drinking water to over 40 million people and supporting billions in fishing, tourism and commercial uses.
The voice of the public is central to NEPA and it should be central and valuable to CEQ as it undertakes these dramatic weakening changes. Tickets for this hearing went within 2 seconds. Public concern for protecting NEPA runs deep. CEQ should not constrain the public voice in a process that could ultimately limit public participation in the NEPA process itself.
Second, NEPA reviews should give full and fair consideration of cumulative environmental impacts to inform decision-making.
Climate change is a significant threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem and the surrounding communities and economies that rely on them. ELPC issued a report by leading Midwestern university experts detailing the ways climate change is already affecting the Lakes from water levels, the spread of invasive species, and causing toxic algal blooms
Cumulative and indirect impacts are of great significance, and in many circumstances, may reflect even greater harm than direct impacts. The tools to assess and analyze cumulative impacts on climate and also clean air and water are available. Protecting our environment – including our climate for our children and future generations should not be short-circuited. It should be critical to NEPA reviews.
Third, the proposed regulations would limit the alternatives that an agency considers in its environmental reviews.
This undermines the “heart” of NEPA. Robust consideration of alternatives can improve projects and ensure that the public, whose dollars are invested, are best served by the outcome. For example, limiting FHWA to consideration of highways and not alternatives that are outside its narrow jurisdiction is harmful and short-sighted. And when matched with limiting cumulative analyses could result in avoidable harm to public health, our environment and the climate.
I have testified against the administration’s rollback of protections under the clean water and clean air acts, including standards to reduce climate pollution and safeguards to protect the public and Great Lakes from toxic mercury pollution. EPA’s own Science Advisory Board has found that the justifications for these actions are deeply flawed and inconsistent with science. The clear preference of this administration to put bad policy first is misguided. This is the case with CEQ’s proposal and rush to move it forward; it’s as if CEQ is attempting to rename the law to the National Expediting Permitting Act.
Watch ELPC Executive Director Howard Learner’s Video Testimony about these misguided NEPA rollbacks.