News | September 14, 2023

NEPA can pave the way for urgent climate action

NEPA gives communities a say in polluting projects proposed near them, such as highways and pipelines.

The Biden administration recently proposed to strengthen the National Environmental Policy Act after devastating Trump-era rollbacks. The proposed changes will shore up our ability to respond to climate change with major clean energy projects and climate-related infrastructure projects. 

For decades, NEPA has been the best tool for communities to engage and give input on major decisions that affect their health and safety. Signed into law in 1970, NEPA’s purpose is to establish a systematic, thoughtful decision making process for communities to engage in planning on a federal level when projects might affect them. The latest updates to the rule deliver on NEPA’s original promise of public participation, but new changes and funding will help us reach our clean energy, climate, and environmental justice goals. 

NEPA has always played a critical role in ensuring public participation, but it has never been more needed than now.

Kym Meyer, SELC Litigation Director

“To power the clean energy future, we need to build broad consensus around new projects to tackle and adapt to the climate crisis,” said Kym Meyer, SELC Litigation Director. “The proposed updates rebuild the foundation necessary to quickly and equitably garner the community support needed for the investments ahead.” 

By delivering predictability and transparency, the proposed rule restores the general framework of NEPA that has been so critical to ensuring public participation and input in government spending and provides new clarity about how the process can be used to address issues we face today. In addition, increased federal funding means that agencies will have the resources to fully engage in the required processes, which ensures NEPA can meet the urgency of today to move needed clean energy and climate-related infrastructure projects forward equitably and with meaningful input.

NEPA gives communities a say in polluting projects happening near them. It’s one of our most effective environmental justice tools. (@Steve Jones)

We have an immense undertaking before us to invest in the clean energy projects needed to slow climate change and to upgrade infrastructure in the face of increasing climate impacts. The proposed rule provides clearer direction on how to consider climate change and environmental justice when looking at proposals, which will help essential projects avoid uncertainty and delays.  

NEPA is one of the strongest tools we have to raise environmental justice concerns and will be essential to ensure clean energy and infrastructure decisions are made equitably with invaluable input from the public. Early collaboration with affected communities helps identify conflicts, locate creative solutions, and set good projects up for success. To take on the challenge of the climate crisis, we need NEPA as a readymade, now improved process to swiftly advance projects that communities want. 

“Frontline communities are in the best position to identify alternatives and solutions that work,” said Liz Zepeda, SELC Federal Regulatory Director. “That’s why we need these updates now to speed up our transition to clean energy with early and meaningful community engagement.” 

While SELC largely supports the proposed changes that undo the harm from the 2020 Trump rollbacks, we plan to weigh in on behalf of other environmental organizations to ensure the potential benefits of this rule. 

We’re fighting for your voice.