Say No to National Environmental Policy Act Proposed Changes

Democracy requires the engagement of the people.

Your children and mine need you and me to give ten minutes of our time today to support the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Read on to find out why.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is one of the most, if not the most, important pieces of environmental legislation ever enacted by the U.S. Congress—so far. President Richard Nixon signed NEPA into law on January 1, 1970. Fifty years later, instead of celebrating and upholding this landmark legislation, the Trump Administration is doing everything it can to undo NEPA’s protections for people and the environment.

Before the National Environmental Policy Act, there were no national environmental laws. If you think the environment is messed up now, imagine what was going on fifty years ago when there were no restraints. Pollution was spewed into the air and water at will, pesticides were routinely sprayed everywhere, and entire ecosystems were bulldozed without a thought to make way for freeways and suburbs.

The Los Angeles Civic Center in California is smothered by smog in 1948. Click here for the image source.

Fortunately, for those of us living in the U.S. today, during the 1960s and 1970s millions of Americans called and wrote to their members of Congress and millions more took to the streets demanding a stop to the environmental degradation that was endangering the health and wellbeing of themselves, their families, and the nonhuman beings sharing the country.

Apparently, back then, Congress actually worked for the people they represented so they listened and then acted. President Nixon, no fan of government regulation himself, got on board.

Nixon established two environmentally-related federal agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Some of the far-reaching environmental legislation enacted by Congress and signed into law by Nixon during the 1970s included the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, Toxic Substances Control Act, and Safe Drinking Water Act.

Bald Eagle in Flight at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge
Bald eagle in flight at Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge – photo credit Tom Koemer, USFWS. At one point, the bald eagle, the national emblem of the United States, was considered an endangered species.

Now that you have a little background (or perhaps were reminded of stuff you already knew) about the environmental situation that led to the National Environmental Policy Act, let’s talk about the Act.

NEPA Overview

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (Public Law 91-190) is a 4 ½ page document that was probably prepared using a typewriter. The purpose of the Act was to declare a national environmental policy and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality to advise the president and oversee the regulatory process.

An Excerpt from the Law

Congress lays out its rather human-centric reasons and goals in Section 101. You will not see the words global warming or climate change, but it seems clear Congress understood that humans were changing the environment and not in a good way. They knew that people needed to change and live in harmony with the rest of nature for the benefit of the people living fifty years ago and the people who would come after them.

This part is important so it is worth reading (a couple of times if needed).

Sec. 101 (a) The Congress, recognizing the profound impact of man’s activity on the interrelations of all components of the natural environment, particularly the profound influences of population growth, high-density urbanization, industrial expansion, resource exploitation, and new and expanding technological advances and recognizing further the critical importance of restoring and maintaining environmental quality to the overall welfare and development of man, declares that it is the continuing policy of the Federal Government, in cooperation with State and local governments, and other concerned public and private organizations, to use all practicable means and measures, including financial and technical assistance, in a manner calculated to foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.

(b) In order to carry out the policy set forth in this Act, it is the continuing responsibility of the Federal Government to use all practicable means, consistent with other essential considerations of national policy, to improve and coordinate Federal plans, functions, programs, and resources to the end that the Nation may—

(1) fulfill the responsibilities of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations;

(2) assure for all Americans safe, healthful, productive, and esthetically and culturally pleasing surroundings;

(3) attain the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without degradation, risk to health or safety, or other undesirable and unintended consequences;

(4) preserve important historic, cultural, and natural aspects of our national heritage, and maintain, wherever possible, an environment which supports diversity and variety of individual choice;

(5) achieve a balance between population and resource use which will permit high standards of living and a wide sharing of life’s amenities; and

(6) enhance the quality of renewable resources and approach the maximum attainable recycling of depletable resources.

(c) The Congress recognizes that each person should enjoy a healthful environment and that each person has a responsibility to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the environment.

Adult Handing an Earth Globe to a Child
Photo credit – iStock/Nastco.
NEPA Requirements

NEPA requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impact of their proposed actions and projects as part of their decision-making process.

By law, these agencies must use a systematic interdisciplinary approach for evaluating impacts and alternatives. At various points in the process, they are required to make information available to the public and to allow the public to comment on it. This enables the federal government to obtain information and expertise from the public and ensures that the people have a voice in projects that may affect their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren.

Council on Environmental Quality

The Council on Environmental Quality is a 3-person committee whose members are appointed by the president. Per NEPA their responsibilities include advising the president on the environment, formulating policies, and preparing the president’s annual report on the environment. This report was eliminated in 1997 after Congress passed the Federal Reports Elimination and Sunset Act to reduce government paperwork.

If you are interested in learning about how NEPA works, click here for an easy to read overview prepared by (a coalition of nonprofits). The Council on Environmental Quality website contains useful information, too.

Hopefully, at this point, you have a basic understanding of NEPA and why it is so critically important to the health and wellbeing of people and the environment.

Next, let’s talk about why you and I need to take time out of our busy schedules today to support NEPA.

Call to Action – Support NEPA

Article II of the U.S. Constitution covers the executive powers of the president. Section 3 states “…he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed…”

The current president, Trump, is deliberately undermining and destroying regulations and policies put in place to carry out the laws enacted by Congress to protect the American people. He uses the economy as a shield for his actions intentionally ignoring the fact that a healthy environment is a critical part of the economy.

On January 1, 2020, the fiftieth anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act, Trump made it clear that he is willfully and proudly attacking this law.

“Moreover, my Administration is delivering on my promise to continue cutting burdensome regulations and has issued almost eight deregulatory actions for every one new regulation imposed over the past 3 years, helping unleash the full potential of America’s economy.”

Donald J. Trump, Presidential Message on the 50th Anniversary of the National Environmental Policy Act, 01/01/20

At Trump’s request, the Council on Environmental Quality has been working on developing revised regulations for implementing NEPA. They issued their proposed changes via the Federal Register on January 10, 2020, under the guise of modernizing and clarifying the regulations.

Docket ID: CEQ-2019-0003 Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act. Click here for the docket folder.

It is a lengthy document.

Some proposed changes make sense like eliminating mandatory distribution of printed documents since everything is available electronically nowadays.

However, other proposed changes will endanger the public and the environment. This includes narrowing the range of actions and projects that would require NEPA review, eliminating the requirement to evaluate cumulative effects like climate change, and removing conflict-of-interest protections, to name a few.

Make a Public Comment

The Council on Environmental Quality is accepting public comments through March 10, 2020, at 11:59 PM ET.

Please take a few minutes to make a public comment (anonymously if you chose) telling the Council that you do not believe that their proposed changes are in the best interest of the American people or the environment. Click here to make your comment.

Thank you.

If you are interested in reading my comment, click here.

Featured Image at Top

The partially submerged Statue of Liberty is shown in heavy seas with the New York City skyline in the background – photo credit iStock/jcrosemann.

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Learning to Ride an Electric Bike

Set realistic expectations.

One way you can reduce your transportation carbon footprint is to learn to ride an electric bike safely and then to make riding it part of your normal routine.

This story began with the previous post entitled Riding an Electric Bike is Good for You and the Planet. If you read that post, you will know why I decided to test ride an electric bike and what happened when I took a demo bike home. For readers picking up the story here, it will be useful for you to know that I bought an electric bike after crashing in my driveway during the home demo week.

I have owned my electric bike for a little over two months. In the hope of persuading you to try an electric bike yourself, I am sharing my real-life experiences during that time (some good and some not). If you are already an electric bike aficionado, please share your story in the comment section below.

Our Old Bikes Get a Second Life

When we purchased our electric bikes, I asked the store owner Wally if he knew of an organization that would accept our old bikes as a donation. He suggested the Cambria Bike Kitchen in the town where we live. I had seen the Cambria Bike Kitchen building but I did not know what was meant by a bike kitchen.

Via Facebook messages, I was connected with a volunteer named Larry. I texted him to make arrangements for my spouse and me to drop off the bikes and a bike rack that does not work with our new bikes.

Larry Kotowicz and Chad Rowe with Donation Bikes at Cambria Bike Kitchen - November 2019
Cambria Bike Kitchen volunteers (left to right) Larry Kotowicz and Chad Rowe with the bikes we donated.

While we were there I asked Larry to tell me about the Cambria Bike Kitchen. It is a nonprofit organization that offers space, tools, and expertise to people who want to repair their own bikes. For a small donation, they will repair your bike for you. Donated bikes get checked out and cleaned up before they are given to kids or adults in need and sometimes bikes are sold.

The Cambria Bike Kitchen provides adult-supervised trail rides for kids of various ages and abilities. This helps kids learn biking skills while enjoying being outside in our beautiful forest.

No, It Was Not Just Like Riding a Bike

Chances are you have heard someone say or said yourself “It is just like riding a bike.” meaning it is second nature or you will easily remember how to do it.

I beg to differ with the above statement at least as it relates to me and my electric bike.

Why would I have thought that after not having ridden a bike in many years, I would hop on an electric bike and instantly be a proficient rider? Most likely it was a combination of enthusiasm and wishful thinking. In hindsight, I realize that my expectations of myself were not realistic.

Compounding the problem was that while I was away for several weeks in October my spouse adapted to electric bike riding and was soon zipping around town running errands. I wanted to be able to do that, too.

My spouse gave me a refresher on bicycle regulations and hand signals and helped me learn how to operate the controls on my electric bike. I did do some practice riding around the bank parking lot at the end of our street and on some of the flatter streets in town. But the thing is we loaded the bikes onto our kayak trailer, now equipped with a removable bike rack, drove them to a spot to practice, and then rode the bikes. This was not exactly riding in the “real world.”

Yet, I declared myself ready for a trip to Soto’s True Earth Market about ¾ of a mile from our house.

A Harrowing Ride to the Grocery Market

The ride got off to a good start. I made it down our steep driveway and street without a mishap.

My spouse had warned me that the bike lane on Main Street would end about halfway between our house and Soto’s. Once you reach that point, you encounter cars parallel parked almost continuously along the curb.

As I neared the end of the bike lane, I signaled, checked for cars, and moved left into the middle of the road. You need to be careful not to ride too close to parked cars or you could get whacked when someone who is not looking opens their car door.

I was thankful to be riding an electric bike. Using the top pedal-assist level and a high gear I was riding about 18-20 miles an hour on this section of the road that is marked with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour.

Legally you can ride a bike in the middle of the road if you are going the same speed as the cars, there is no bike lane, or the bike lane is not safe. Apparently, some of the people driving cars behind us were unaware of the California Vehicle Code or were just impatient. One car illegally tailgated us and another one conducted an illegal and unsafe pass on the left. This stretch of road is less than ½ mile long so it was not as if we were backing up traffic. Geez, people.

Soto's True Earth Market Storefront
Entrance to Soto’s True Earth Market in Cambria, CA – photo Soto’s.

We parked our bikes on the sidewalk near the entrance to Soto’s making sure that pedestrians would not be impeded. After winding a lock around the pole of a street sign and through the bike frames we removed the keys locking the wheels. My spouse grabbed the saddlebags that we used to load up with our groceries.

On the way home, we did everything in reverse.

By the time we got to our street, I was already tired because for some reason I had felt compelled to ride as fast as I could so that I would not tick off the motorists behind me. I wobbled around the corner and then rode up the street and the driveway at a virtual snail’s pace using the top pedal-assist mode and lowest gear. I made it to the top of the driveway exhausted and out of breath.

Wow, I have walked on the sidewalk and driven in a car up and down Main Street hundreds of times, but I had no idea how dangerous it is for people riding a bike until one of those people was me.

A Crisis of Confidence

I figured if we persevered, followed the law, and were polite to everyone we encountered, eventually people in the community would get used to seeing us riding around town and would be okay with it.

That was before the second crash.

This one occurred at the bottom of the street. My spouse had made the signal light but I had to stop on a very steep curve. Instead of stopping I crashed into the curb and fell off. While I was sitting there making sure all my limbs were intact two people driving down the street stopped and asked if I needed assistance. This show of caring heartened me. Fortunately, I only had a bruised ankle and some scratches. I knew it was important for me to get back on the bike and finish the trip. And I did.

Unfortunately, the second crash shattered my confidence.

A few days later, we decided to ride to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve to take a walk. Poised at the top of the driveway, I could not move. I was too afraid to ride my bike down it.

A Way Forward

Sometimes the best course of action is to suck it up and power through your fear but sometimes it is best to step back and rethink what you are doing.

The electric bikes had been my idea. They represented one part of our quest to be able to get from point A to B without burning fossil fuels. And we had laid down a significant chunk of cash to buy and equip the bikes.

I pondered what to do.

The solution became apparent but not during an “ah-ha” moment. It was more like a “duh” moment. If I am committed to getting off fossil fuels, and I am, then I need to learn to ride the electric bike. However, it is okay for me to care for myself and to learn at my own pace.

So it is back to the basics for me.

I am learning how to ride a bike again and practicing operating my electric bike on my own terms. For now, I walk my bike down the driveway and the street and then ride it to wherever we are going, which does not include the market, yet. On the way back, I ride up the street and the driveway but I give myself permission to stop and walk my bike the rest of the way if I need to (this is not easy).

Linda Poppenheimer on Rock Bench at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve in Cambria, CA - November 2019
Happily, I have achieved one goal which was to ride my bike to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve on the edge of the Pacific Ocean and then ride back home.

How long will it take for me to become a proficient and confident electric bike rider? It could take months, a year, or even longer.

Imagine Yourself on an Electric Bike

After reading the above story, I will understand if you are thinking that I do not make a very good electric bike advocate. But I think I do and this is why.

We all need to live more lightly on Earth and for many of us, that means we need to change the way we live. Some changes are easy and others are not. The important thing is to be committed to doing both.

For me things, like composting and cutting plastic bag waste, were easy. Learning to ride an electric bike has been hard but I am doing it.

Linda Poppenheimer at Mechanics Bank ATM in Cambria, CA - November 2019
Here I am depositing a check into the ATM at the Mechanics Bank in Cambria, CA. We stopped here on the way back from a ride to the Fiscalini Ranch Preserve.

I imagine a world where bicyclists of all ages and abilities enjoy riding on safe bike pathways that go everywhere. In the meantime, if you are driving your car and see me pedaling along the street, thank you for sharing the road with me.

Featured Image at Top: Wooden cubes with letters rotating from saying DONT to DOIT – Photo credit iStock/Eoneren.

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