Wild & Natural Places

Defending the National Environmental Protection Act

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is widely considered to be the nation’s basic environmental charter. It addresses the basic question: will a proposed project have a significant impact on the environment and on your community?

NEPA’s core purpose is to require informed and thoughtful decision-making. Before a federal agency can do something big—like fund a new highway or permit a pipeline—it has to look at how its actions will affect the environment, give this information to the public and decisionmakers, and consider input from the public.

NEPA is a deliberate process of brainstorming for big projects and it empowers the public to participate rather than simply trusting bureaucrats. It is about:

  1. Transparency,
  2. Informed Decision-Making
  3. Giving Voice to Local Communities.

What is ELPC Doing?

Testifying before the Council on Environmental Quality

ELPC testified in strong opposition to CEQ’s proposed changes to NEPA regulations in February 2020. We gathered more than 50 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. 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.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (Wisconsin Northwoods)

The Fourmile logging project would log 12,000 acres of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF). NEPA requires a complete Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) before such a project can be approved, but the U.S. Forest Service is ignoring the law to rush approval without a close look at the consequences. In May 2020, ELPC filed a notice with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service in objection to their draft decision and “finding of no significant impact” (FONSI). ELPC is fighting for transparency and thoughtful decision-making for the long-term care of our national forests.

Illiana Tollway (Northern Illinois/Indiana)

In late 2014, the Federal Highway Administration signed a Record of Decision for the Illiana Tollway, a proposed 125-mile tolled highway from I-55 in Will County, Illinois, east to I-65 in Indiana. The regional planning organization found that the tollway would have minimal mobility benefits while exposing the state to significant financial risk. Several environmental organizations, including the Environmental Law & Policy Center and Openlands, brought a NEPA lawsuit because the Environmental Impact Statement improperly calculated the baseline population forecast for the area. The federal court agreed, explaining that the analysis of the “no action” alternative improperly assumed population growth due to the construction of the proposed tollway. The Federal Highway Administration cannot proceed with the tollway without a fair environmental analysis.

Bell Smith Springs

The U.S. Forest Service proposed a plan to clear-cut 3,400 acres in the Shawnee National Forest, in Southern Illinois in the 1990s. The NEPA process revealed that this extensive logging would damage Bell Smith Springs, one of the most beautiful and pristine recreation areas in the National Forest. ELPC brought a lawsuit and the Forest Service ultimately decided not to remove timber from this special place.

Petoskey Bypass (Northern Michigan)

In 2002, the Michigan Department of Transportation (“MDOT”) abandoned plans for a damaging and disruptive four-lane bypass through the scenic and rural area of Petoskey. Through the NEPA process, MDOT identified better transportation alternatives and provided a forum for widespread public opposition. Instead of building a bypass that would not solve congestion issues and would have destroyed wetlands, farms, and the historic community character, MDOT decided to support a transportation and land use planning process led by local citizens and governments, which focused on reinvestment in and upgrades to existing roads.

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