Report: Secret back channel aids industry in gutting NEPA

The public had three options to submit comments on the White House’s proposal to gut NEPA: fax, regular mail, or through an online government portal. A new report confirms pro-Trump industry representatives were allowed to simply email their comments, giving them an advantage.

A reporter for Bloomberg Law has confirmed what SELC and other environmental organizations had suspected, that government officials allowed industry comments about a proposed dismantling of a key environmental law through a secret and expedient back channel while the public had to use an onerous online portal to defend the law.

Bloomberg Law reporter Stephen Lee got the Council on Environmental Quality to admit it accepted emailed comments even though email was not one of the three options available to the public.

Lee reported that the email option to support President Donald Trump’s plans to gut the National Environmental Policy Act surfaced after industry groups fretted to the White House that they could not match the public outcry from those defending the law.

Industry titans have lobbied the White House to strip out key provisions of NEPA, the law that gives communities a voice in large projects that affect them.

Providing a separate and easier channel to industry representatives to influence the public-comment process appears to be another example of how President Trump and his administration have put a thumb on the scale of policy-making to give special access to lobbyists and executives.

It’s like some people were told to take the stairs while others were directed to a secret elevator. Yes, we all got to the same place, but the burden and effort is much different. That doesn’t seem fair.”

—Senior Attorney Kym Hunter

SELC Senior Attorney Kym Hunter, who heads the organization’s defense of NEPA, said the public had three options to submit comments: fax, regular mail, or through an online government portal. If pro-Trump industry representatives were allowed to simply email their comments, that would give them an advantage, she said.

“This is a question of whether the government is providing a level playing field,” Hunter said. “We were able to upload all of our comments and all of the comments we helped collect from our clients and partners, but process wasn’t exactly streamlined or user friendly, and it was a lot of work.”

Hunter said SELC had “five or six people working up to three days” to prepare the written comments and the attachments in a way that they could be submitted through the online portal. If email were an option, Hunter said the process would have taken fewer people and less than half of the time.

“It’s like some people were told to take the stairs while others were directed to a secret elevator,” she said. “Yes, we all got to the same place, but the burden and effort is much different. That doesn’t seem fair.”

You can read the Bloomberg Law story here.

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