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

On Fire – Book Review

We can thrive not just survive.

If you or someone you love is planning to live on Earth anytime in the future, you should read Naomi Klein’s On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal.

Without ever having read a review about it or at least glancing at the front flap of the book jacket, have you ever grabbed a book off of a bookstore shelf and then walked immediately to the checkout counter and bought it? I will only do this for a very few authors which include Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and Yvon Chouinard.

That is how I obtained my copy of On Fire.

In just under 300 pages, you will receive a valuable history lesson about the climate crisis and a vision for what we can and need to do to keep Earth habitable for ourselves and those who come after us.

Book Review

Since I had read nothing about On Fire, I did not know what to expect other than it had to do with the climate crisis and the Green New Deal. Having read previous books by Klein I was prepared for a fast-paced, informative, and action provoking book. It is.

On Fire Book Cover

Readers before cracking open On Fire, I suggest you approach reading it with an open and inquisitive mindset. You may find some parts disturbing but you will likely feel uplifted by others.

On Fire consists of essays and public talks that Klein has written and presented over a ten year period from 2010 to 2019.

She covers a lot of ground from the Gulf of Mexico to the Vatican to the Great Barrier Reef. Wide-ranging topics include climate change, capitalism, science, culture, and the Green New Deal. Along the way, you will be exposed to terms like Anglosphere, othering, sacrifice zones, neoliberal economics, and geoengineering.

My copy of On Fire is sporting a bright pink and red ruffle along the page edges where sticky tabs are marking passages that I thought were important or worth reviewing again later. Here are a few examples.

For me, the paragraph below from the “Introduction” pretty much sums up our current situation.

“The past forty years of economic history have been a story of systematically weakening the power of the public sphere, unmaking regulatory bodies, lowering taxes for the wealthy, and selling off essential services to the private sector. All the while, union power has been dramatically eroded and the public has been trained in helplessness: no matter how big the problem, we have been told, it’s best to leave it to the market or billionaire philanthro-capitalists, to get out of the way, to stop trying to fix problems at their root.”

In the chapter entitled “The Leap Years,” Klein describes the Leap Manifesto, a sort of Canadian version of the Green New Deal that she helped write. Page 178 contains a very important message that every environmentalist should heed.

“One thing we were very conscious of when we drafted the Leap Manifesto is that emergencies are vulnerable to abuses of power, and progressives are not immune to this by any means. There is a long and painful history of environmentalists, whether implicitly or explicitly, sending the message that ‘Our cause is so big, and so urgent, and since it encompasses everyone and everything, it should take precedence over everything and everyone else.’ Between the lines: ‘First we’ll save the planet and then we will worry about poverty, police violence, gender discrimination, and racism.’

“The Art of the Green New Deal” chapter near the end of the book discusses the power of art and how it can help us envision the social and ecological transformation we can have if we have the courage to go for it.

The video below co-created by Klein beautifully embodies this idea.

The Bottom Line

When Naomi Klein published her first book about the climate crisis This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate in 2014, she was already an award-winning journalist and bestselling author. She is currently the Senior Correspondent for The Intercept and the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University. Klein is the co-founder of the climate justice organization The Leap.

Many wonderful writers do not have the grasp of language that Klein does. Her writing is clear, understandable, and evocative. She tells it like it is and seems to purposefully say things in a way intended to rile you up, like poking a stick in a hornet’s nest. This is one of the things that make her such a powerful writer. We need people who are willing to say what is really going on and to spur us to action. Klein does that.

I recommend you read On Fire first and then give or loan a copy of the book to someone you know that has not come to grips with the fact that the climate crisis is already here and that we can do something about it.

Featured Image at Top: Sunrise Movement youth activists demanding a Green New Deal during a sit-in outside the office of U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on November 12, 2018 – Photo courtesy of Sunrise Movement.

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