Trump administration again seeks to further silence vulnerable communities

A NEPA rally in Washington, D.C., in Feburary 2020. (© Mike Mather)

Today the Trump administration said it will issue an executive order directing federal agencies to bypass a longstanding bedrock environmental law that protects communities from badly planned projects, like pipelines, oil drilling and highways that, in many cases, impact communities of color, damage neighborhoods or displace residents entirely.

The executive order is using the cover of an economic emergency to suspend the protections of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, as a way to fast-track large federal projects. NEPA is the federal law that provides communities a voice when destructive projects threaten their landscape, lives and livelihoods. It also requires developers to consider less destructive options.

The Trump administration cites the financial downturn caused by the novel coronavirus to justify this change. However, gutting NEPA has been a policy priority of the administration since taking office. Those assaults on basic environmental protections accelerated in January of this year with proposed regulations reversing laws that have protected communities for 50 years.

"For more than a week now, people have encircled the White House to demand their voices be heard because, for too long, authorities have ignored them or marginalized them," says Senior Attorney Kym Hunter, who heads SELC's defense of NEPA. "It is absolutely breathtaking that the Trump administration would use this moment to further squelch these voices. We won’t let this stand. No one is above the law."

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