SELC files to halt Trump administration attempts to gut key environmental law

As the Trump administration looks to cut public input from public projects, officials are also shutting out the public by withholding government documents behind the policy shift. 

Attorneys for SELC have filed a motion to prevent the Trump administration from moving forward with efforts to weaken enforcement of the National Environmental Policy Act until the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality releases documents that explain the rationale for the proposed changes.

CEQ has refused to release public documents requested by SELC under the Freedom of Information Act. The administration has said it cannot release the documents before November — even though that would be long after the March 10 comment deadline for the proposed changes.

In an usual move, SELC has asked a federal judge to approve an injunction preventing CEQ from closing the comment period until it provides documents requested more than 17 months ago. CEQ has identified more than 2,500 documents responsive to the request — but has released only released a tiny fraction of those, most of them heavily redacted.

“The irony of all this is that the comment process puts a high value on informed input from the public, but at the same time, the Trump administration is keeping information away from the public,” said Senior Attorney Kym Hunter, who filed the request for the preliminary injunction. “The rules call for openness and transparency, but instead the administration has shut the door and boarded the windows.”

The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, is a bedrock environmental law enacted to ensure that government decisions that could harm the environment are open to meaningful public review and involvement. The law has helped stop wasteful and unnecessary projects while often identifying less expensive and damaging alternatives. The proposed changes would drastically weaken NEPA, exempting large categories of projects from review and greatly limiting public input.

With this FOIA request, SELC is trying to find out who is driving this effort to weaken this vital law — an effort that will mostly benefit the construction industry. “Our communities deserve to know who or what drove this decision, and we’re committed to getting those answers,” said Hunter.

CEQ has not responded to the motion, which was filed on Feb. 13.

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