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 ProtectNEPA.org (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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Resources

Implications of U.S. Leaving the Paris Climate Agreement

It is not over.

Last week, the Trump Administration began the yearlong process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement. What does this mean for Americans?

Before we talk about ramifications, let’s do a quick refresher on the Paris Agreement; what it is and why you and I should care about it.

What is the Paris Agreement?

The Paris Agreement is not the first international environmental-related treaty shepherded by the United Nations and it is unlikely to be the last.

United Nations Leaders Celebrating Paris Climate Agreement
United Nations leaders celebrating the 2015 Paris Agreement – photo United Nations.

The environment and global warming took the world stage during the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment hosted by Sweden. During that meeting, the Stockholm Declaration was created and agreed on. It contains both environmental and development principles.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) was founded that year to coordinate the UN’s environmental activities.

United Nations international environmental treaties include the 1987 Montreal Protocol aimed at phasing-out ozone-depleting substances (which it is doing), the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) with an objective of stabilizing greenhouse gas emissions, and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol establishing greenhouse gas emission reduction commitments for developed countries (the U.S. did not ratify it).

In 1995, the UNFCCC parties (countries) began coming together each year to assess progress, establish new commitments, and negotiate new treaties and amendments to existing treaties. This meeting is called the Conference of the Parties (COP).

President Barack Obama at 2015 UN COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris, France on November 30, 2015

The Paris Agreement was negotiated and agreed to during COP 21 in December 2015. It was entered into force on November 4, 2016.

Then U.S. President Barack Obama attended the COP 21 climate conference – photo credit Arnaud Bouissou – MEDDE/SG COP 21

Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement builds on the UNFCCC (Convention) which is still in force. The Convention’s objective was and is:

“stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.”

The Paris Agreement objective is described in Article 2:

1. This Agreement, in enhancing the implementation of the Convention, including its objective, aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty, including by:

(a) Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C [3.6°F] above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C [ 2.7°F] above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

(b) Increasing the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production; and

(c) Making finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development.

2. This Agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

Attendees Wearing T-Shirts with Hashtag 2050startsnow at 2015 UN COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris, France
Two attendees at the Commonwealth Youth Climate Change Network session at the 2015 COP 21 climate conference in Paris, France – photo United Nations.

Of the 195 parties (every country) that signed the Paris Agreement only 10 countries did not ratify it (Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, and Yemen).

My layperson interpretation is that the intent of the Paris Agreement is to up the ante by establishing a specific temperature ceiling, requiring each country to determine a greenhouse gas emission reduction target, and obliging developed countries to provide financial assistance to help developing countries (who are also the lowest emitters) adapt to climate change impacts.

U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement

Article 28 of the Paris Agreement states that any party may withdraw from the Agreement three years after it was entered into force and that the withdrawal will take effect one year after notification.

When the U.S. Department of State issued a statement on November 4, 2019, announcing that the United States was withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, it was not a surprise. Trump had announced his intention to do so while speaking in the White House Rose Garden on June 1, 2017.

Man Holding a Crystal Ball Showing Future Years Inside
Photo credit – iStock/shutter_m.

I am not a policy expert nor do I own a crystal ball (you probably do not either), so I do not know what the future repercussions will be, but here are a few observations so far.

  • Regardless of the fact that the U.S. has been a party to the Agreement since before he took office; Trump has been purposefully rolling back environmental regulations and protections and thwarting climate action.
  • The credibility of the United States has already been undermined by the actions of the Trump Administration so pulling out of this international agreement just adds more tarnish to our battered reputation.
  • By withdrawing from the Agreement, Trump is abdicating U.S. leadership of the climate movement which could have far-reaching economic and social ramifications. His actions are further endangering the health and wellbeing of Americans and people all around the world (including his own children and grandchildren).

There is some good news.

When the U.S. officially withdraws from the Agreement in 2020, there will still be 184 parties working towards its common goals.

A growing number of U.S. governors, mayors, and business leaders have stated that they are still in and are committed to achieving the Agreement objective. These leaders are actively taking climate action and creating their own partnerships with each other and other countries.

What Can You Do?

We have an opportunity in 2020 to elect a president that will put us back in the Paris Agreement. In the meantime, we can keep the climate movement alive and moving forward in our own communities, cities, counties, regions, and states.

  • Support climate action initiatives and policies where you live that are advancing things like clean renewable energy, regenerative agriculture, decarbonized transportation and buildings, infrastructure resilience, and waste reduction.
  • Tell your elected officials that you support the Green New Deal.
  • Give your time and/or money to environmental justice organizations that are helping people who are and will be more impacted by the climate crisis than others.
  • Be an informed voter and vote in local, state, and national elections.
  • Participate in climate rallies, vigils, and marches (people in the streets demanding change do get things done).
What Do Love Ribbon Banner at 2015 UN COP 21 Climate Conference in Paris, France
This banner was seen at the Alternatiba festival during the 2015 United Nations COP 21 climate conference in Paris, France – photo credit Mark Dixon.

I can imagine the people of the United States fulfilling and even exceeding the commitments in the Paris Agreement in spite of the fact that technically we will not be part of it.

I am still in. Are you?

Featured Image at Top: This is a photo of the Eiffel Tower lit up with 1.5 degrees being projected on it during the United Nations COP 21 climate conference in Paris, France on November 30, 2015 – photo credit Francois Mori/AP.

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Resources

  1. As Trump Steps Away from Paris Climate Agreement, U.S. States, Cities and Businesses Step Up – by Joel Jaeger, Tom Cyrs and Kevin Kennedy, World Resources Institute, 10/23/19
  2. China, France reaffirm support of Paris climate agreement, call it ‘irreversible’ – by Marine Pennetier, Reuter, 11/05/19
  3. On the U.S. Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – Press Statement, U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, 11/04/19
  4. Paris Climate Agreement: Everything You Need to Know – NRDC
  5. Statement by President Trump on the Paris Climate Accord – the White House, 06/01/17
  6. The Climate Crisis in Terms Trump Can Understand – by Ban Ki-moon and Patrick Verkooijen, The New York Times, 11/07/19
  7. The Paris Agreement: When is a Treaty not a Treaty? – by Josh Busby, Global Policy, 04/26/16
  8. The Real Impact of US Withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord – by Michele Bonanno, Impakter, 06/10/17
  9. The Reality of U.S. Climate Action: Non-Federal Leadership is Delivering Ambition and Action – America’s Pledge, September 2019
  10. Trump Isn’t a Climate Denier. He’s Worse. – by Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, 11/05/19
  11. U.S. Climate Alliance Governors Oppose Administration’s Withdrawal from the Paris Agreement – press release, United States Climate Alliance, 11/04/19
  12. U.S. Withdraws From Paris Accord, Ceding Leadership To China. – by Ariel Cohen, Forbes, 11/07/19
  13. Virginia Democrats campaigned on their Green New Deal and fighting climate change. And won. – by Umair Irfan, Vox, 11/06/19
  14. What is the Paris Agreement? – United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change