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WASHINGTON, D.C. – The
Creature from the Black Lagoon loomed over the offices of the Interior
Department last week as non-profit consumer advocate Public Citizen joined the
chorus of voices condemning the proposed rollback of the bedrock National
Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.
Secretary is an Oil Lobbyist,” declared the giant video screen outside Interior
headquarters throughout the last day of only two hearings that the EPA provided
nationwide on the proposed NEPA rollback. It depicted Interior Secretary David Bernhardt,
who has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, as a monster from the “swamp of
lobbyists and corporate cronies that President Donald Trump derided as a
candidate but now embraces wholeheartedly.”
Bernhardt is in
charge of the Bureau of Indian Affairs as well as all public lands overseen by
the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, agencies where community
members currently have opportunities to give input on environmental impact
statements — a guarantee of citizen involvement that the White House aims to
ACTION ALERT: Written comments on the NEPA rollback will be accepted until March 5 via any of the following methods. Go to https://www.regulations.gov/ and follow the online instructions for submitting comments to Docket ID No. CEQ-2019-0003. Fax to 202-456-6546, or mail to Council on Environmental Quality / 730 Jackson Place NW / Washington, DC 20503 / Attn: Docket No. CEQ-2019-0003
Coming from rural communities
throughout the West, they rallied to an urban backdrop of street music, sirens
and jackhammer sounds in the snow and ice outside of EPA Region 8 headquarters.
inside, they told the White House Council on Environmental Quality to abandon recent
proposals that would reduce public comment opportunities and would curb consideration
of projects’ cumulative impacts in regulatory rulings pursuant to the bedrock National
Environmental Policy Act.
to protect every voice, even the saguaro cactus,” said Juan Mancias, chairman
of the Esto’k Gna or Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe, who traveled to Denver from his native
Lower Rio Grande Valley to speak against the NEPA revisions. “It affects who we
are. We are the original people of the land and we’re having to fight.”
Mancias spoke from
painful personal experience, coming from the long fight to protect his and
other tribes’ sacred sites from the border wall. That wall, he explained, is
slated for construction three miles from the U.S.-Mexico border, which would
permit liquefied natural gas facilities, pipelines and other private projects
behind the wall to be exempt from standard oversight while occupying ancestral
has sued the federal government for the Administration’s two-year-old waiver of
that oversight. The
waiver is one of at least 28 that have the Trump Administration has
employed to push a wall through despite numerous laws, such as the Native
American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Endangered Species Act,
and the Safe Drinking Water Act, which were waived as part of the approval
Council on Environmental Quality, an executive agency that works directly under
the direction of Trump, claims it needs to “modernize” and “update” regulations
to “facilitate more efficient, effective, and timely NEPA reviews by
simplifying and clarifying regulatory requirements.” It is designed to “reduce
unnecessary paperwork and delays, and to promote better decision-making,” it
says of its notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register on Jan. 10
is responding to Trump’s 2017 Executive Order 13807 establishing a “One Federal
Decision” policy, including a two-year goal for completing environmental
reviews for major infrastructure projects.
increased costs and complexity of NEPA reviews and litigation make it very
challenging for large and small businesses to plan, finance, and build projects
in the United States,” the council says in a fact sheet.
rules also apply to reviews of government projects, notes Lisa DeVille, who
testified about the proposal on behalf of Ft. Berthold POWER (Protectors of
Water and Earth Rights), from Mandaree, North Dakota.
tribal communities like Fort Berthold, which bear the brunt of health problems
such as heart disease and asthma from the poorly planned federal projects, NEPA
isn’t just an environmental protection law, it’s a critical tool for ensuring
our voice. We cannot afford to lose it,” said DeVille, a tribal member of the
Mandan Hidatsa & Arikara Nation.
that provides broad opportunities for public participation in government
decisions that affect the environment and local communities shouldn’t be rolled
back; rather, laws like NEPA should be embraced and strengthened,” she said. “NEPA
is one of the only avenues for tribal members to have any input on federal
to the American Bird Conservancy, “These revisions would significantly curtail
scientific assessment and review of environmental impacts of federal projects.
Additionally, these changes would eliminate important public comment
provisions. It’s critical that the public be afforded the opportunity to
comment on projects that affect birds, like the Bald Eagle and the habitat they
communities facing fracking in the Greater Chaco Region are the reason Navajo
Nation Council Delegate Daniel Tso sent a representative to speak at the Denver
rally. The Bureau of Land Management has approved more than 400 new fracking
wells without adequate tribal consultation or protections for cultural
heritage, community health, water and climate impacts, according to opponents.
have consistently cited the need for more NEPA review,” he said, adding that
government-to-government consultation between the Administration and tribes should
take place prior to NEPA changes.
A May 2019
Tenth Circuit Court ruling held that BLM failed to analyze the cumulative water
impacts of fracking in the Greater Chaco Region, a win for Navajo chapters in
the impacted area. However, the requirement to do so would be nullified if NEPA
regulations change as proposed, he said. “You win, but then they do this to get
around it,” he concluded.
Indian Pueblo Council Member Tyrone Ortiz, who travelled from New Mexico to the
rally, said the pueblo opposes changes to NEPA and weakening protection for the
environment. He called for more public hearings.
the Administration is attacking us all to benefit industry,” he said. NEPa “exists to give the public time to
consider and comment. These two public hearings are not enough.”
exalted in the Denver snowfall and continued, “We must consider our actions on
this Earth. Once we get together, we can assure that our future generations
will be able to see what we see.”
Arellano, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services senior policy analyst,
who moderated the rally, called the proposed rule changes “radical” and
“drastic.” She said they respond to the needs of special interests, such as the
American Petroleum Institute, which “are literally spending millions of
dollars” to “severely restrict public input.”
Citizen analysis released in January found that 17 former lobbying and legal
clients of Bernhardt have spent nearly $30 million lobbying the federal
government since the start of the Trump Administration.
extremely close ties between private-sector lobbying interests and the Trump Administration
are bearing fruit for those industries that want to exploit public lands,” said
Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project.
“Industry groups that came into the Trump Administration with a lengthy wish
list can now check off just about everything they desired.”
proposal to gut NEPA would allow fossil fuel projects to proceed untrammeled,
ignoring the true long-term environmental costs to the climate and to the
planet, according to Public Citizen.
would let fossil fuel corporations off the hook, allowing them to ignore the
harmful impacts of resource extraction and focus only on short-term profits, it
said. “Under Trump’s proposal, fossil fuel corporations would have the ability
to conduct their own environmental reviews – a blatant conflict of interest.”
Weissman, president of Public Citizen, added, “Why bother checking about
projects’ impact on the environment if you don’t care about protecting the
Written comments on the rollback will be
accepted until March 5 via any of the following methods.
Go to https://www.regulations.gov/ and follow the online instructions for
submitting comments to Docket ID No. CEQ-2019-0003. Fax to 202-456-6546, or mail
to Council on Environmental Quality / 730 Jackson Place NW / Washington, DC
20503 / Attn: Docket No. CEQ-2019-0003
Talli Nauman is the director of Journalism
to Raise Environmental Awareness. Contact her at