White House works to cut public voices from big projects

Attacks on NEPA could strip critical oversight that has saved taxpayer money

Public input and environmental review is paramount for the management of our public lands. (© Bill Lea)

Today, the Trump administration revealed a disastrous wish list of cuts to the nation’s bedrock environmental law—the National Environmental Policy Act—that will placate industry executives and lobbyists while stripping away the voices of the communities and the citizens who have the most at stake.

“For three years, the Trump administration has launched misguided crusades against this critical environmental protection on the baseless belief that NEPA holds up progress. The opposite is true,” says Senior Attorney Kym Hunter, who leads the team of attorneys defending NEPA. “NEPA makes big projects better, and saves taxpayers money when it exposes wasteful and reckless political boondoggles.”

President Trump demonstrated his misunderstanding of NEPA by incorrectly blaming the important environmental law for delays associated with the Marc Basnight Bridge. That project spans 15 miles of bridges and highway linking South Nags Head to Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

NEPA makes big projects better, and saves taxpayers money when it exposes wasteful and reckless political boondoggles.”

—Senior Attorney Kym Hunter

While the President blamed NEPA for 25 years of delay in completing this project, in fact the delays were due to decades of disagreement between local, state, and federal officials, about the best solution for this fragile section of the Outer Banks, as well as funding limitations. In fact, once the project entered the NEPA process in earnest, it was improved. After transportation agencies transparently reviewed the impacts and alternatives based on input from the public, all stakeholders agreed on a safer, more reliable solution.

"This is exactly why NEPA is important," Hunter says.

The White House’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to NEPA makes clear that the Trump administration wants to remove the safeguards that have protected communities from projects that needlessly alter their lives and livelihoods, and taxpayers from funding unneeded political pork.

“NEPA is the review that takes into account what is best for communities and neighborhoods, and that’s why big-industry executives are pushing the Trump administration for changes,” adds Hunter.

The proposal, among other things, seeks to exempt categories of major projects from meaningful public review, and limits public participation in decision-making. It also seeks to prevent any consideration of climate change when planning large projects.

In the past few years, communities across the country have suffered stunning damage from record-setting hurricanes, storms and wildfires, all fueled in part by a changing climate. 

For a primer on the basics of NEPA, watch the video below from Senior Attorney Kym Hunter.

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