Press Release | February 13, 2020

SELC moves to postpone NEPA changes over FOIA failures

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA — Attorneys today moved to pump the brakes on a sweeping and industry-friendly downgrade to the National Environmental Policy Act because the Trump administration has refused to provide required public documents that would shed light on its decision making.

This unusual legal move by the Southern Environmental Law Center comes after the Council on Environmental Quality has stonewalled requests for the public records explaining the reasons and rationale for gutting NEPA, the nation’s bedrock environmental law. Adding to the urgency, the Trump administration is working to fast-track these changes, providing just 60 days for comments.

SELC filed the preliminary injunction this morning in the United States District Court in Charlottesville, Virginia, in an effort to prevent the administration from moving ahead with the changes.

SELC has tried for more than 17 months to gain the records that the Trump administration admits are public but has refused to provide. The administration has said it won’t be able to provide the documents until at least November, coinciding with the national presidential election and long after the changes could be finalized.

“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 Kym Hunter, a senior SELC attorney 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.”

NEPA is a 50-year-old law that, among other things, informs people, communities and local governments about large construction projects that will affect their lives and even livelihoods. At the request of industry executives and lobbyists, the Trump administration wants to exempt from public scrutiny entire categories of projects.

That would strip away the safeguards that provide communities with the information they need and deserve. NEPA’s public information requirements have resulted in improved outcomes that better served communities, and have exposed political boondoggles that would have wasted taxpayer money.

“The Trump administration is breaking the law by not providing information to the public and, unbelievably, is doubling down on that duplicity to gain an advantage,” Hunter said. “Our communities deserve to know who or what drove this decision, and we’re committed to getting those answers.”

Additional resources:

SELC’s motion can be found here.

A link to object to the Trump administration’s NEPA downgrade can be accessed here.

A video explanation of NEPA’s role is below.


Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Kym Meyer

Litigation Director