Gutting NEPA would silence voices, further harm air, so say eco-justice, environmentalist groups

The Trump administration’s move to undermine a foundational environmental protection would largely silence the public and expose low-income communities, tribal communities, and communities of color to a disproportionate amount of harmful pollution, according to a coalition of U.S. environmental justice and environmental groups.

The leadership of the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform, which includes environmental justice and environmental groups across the country, strongly opposed the administration’s plan to gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in formal comments submitted on the proposal.

This marks the coalition’s first high-profile public action since it launched last July to promote equitable and just solutions to the climate crisis and protect the health, safety and well-being of all communities—especially those that have been marginalized historically—through federal climate and environmental policy. Members of the coalition said in a joint statement:

All communities have a right to live free from exposure to dangerous toxic pollution in their soil as well as in the air they breathe, the food they eat, and the water they drink. Yet persistent racial and economic inequalities have concentrated toxic polluters near and within communities of color, tribal communities, and low-income communities. Instead of striving to overcome those injustices, the Trump administration—with its NEPA rollback that would curb speech and boost dangerous pollution—would make things worse.

We oppose this egregious move and urge the administration to instead advance a climate policy agenda that reduces the disproportionate amount of pollution often found in environmental justice communities and that is associated with cumulative impacts, public health risks, and other persistent challenges.

And if this administration’s sham public process on this rollback—where they held only two public hearings and provided a mere 60 days to comment on a sweeping proposed regulatory change—is any indication, this rule will be devastating to our communities.

The Equitable and Just National Climate Platform was co-authored and signed last summer when a dozen environmental justice organizations and six national environmental groups came together to overcome historic injustices and develop equitable and just climate solutions. The platform was signed by 250 national environmental and environmental justice groups and seeks to advance the goals of economic, racial, climate, and environmental justice to boost the health and vitality of all communities while fighting to slow, stop, and reverse climate change.

The administration’s NEPA proposal would curb the ability of the public to comment, raise concerns, or offer alternatives to proposed major federal projects such as highways, bridges, pipelines, and publicly owned facilities. It would also end a long-standing rule requiring federal agencies to analyze the combined or cumulative environmental harm before approving a new project.

These measures could shut out voices from affected communities and lead to an increase in pollution, especially in economically disadvantaged communities, tribal communities, and communities of color. These groups are disproportionately exposed to toxic pollution and are most affected by the increasingly severe storms, wildfires, floods, and heat waves fueled by climate change.

The administration’s drive to weaken NEPA is precisely why the Equitable and Just National Climate Platform came together: to protect the right of all people and communities to clean air, safe drinking water, healthy food, and the benefits of a vibrant, clean economy.

The signatories believe that the communities that bear the greatest burdens of pollution, climate change, and economic inequality should lead the way in shaping the solutions needed to address the climate crisis and environmental racism as well as to achieve a just climate future.

From a Natural Resources Defense Council Mar. 10, 2020 press release.

Image above: Jim henderson

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