Wild Horse Education Joins 341 Public Interest Orgs to Protect NEPA; Environment, Public Health and Public Voice


Wild Horse Education Joins 341 Public Interest Orgs to Protect NEPA; Environment, Public Health and Public Voice

On June 20, 2018, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)  announced plans to revise CEQ’s  National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA regulations). This is one of the most severe attacks on our environment, public health, and right to public participation we have seen to date from the Trump administration.

NEPA is the essential process of law that allows communities to participate in a process to protect themselves and their environment from dangerous, rushed or poorly planned federal projects and often provides the only forum for public engagement. Often this process is the only opportunity for public involvement.

A comment letter sent in response to the proposed changes represents a collective of 341 public interest organizations, representing millions of members and supporters, to the Council on Environmental Quality’s recent Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM). An earlier joint letter was sent to extend the comment period to 60 days, from the proposed 30, successfully.

“The list of organizations is in truth a representation of the heart of NEPA intention; big and small, we are a part of the process and must be considered. As a voice for a public lands interest, wild horses, that is often excluded, it is an honor to be a part of this effort to protect that public interest,” said Laura Leigh, President of Wild Horse Education

It is important to emphasis that under this Congress alone there have been over 100 attacks on the NEPA process.

Changes include:

  • Restrictions on public input: The right of citizens to meaningfully weigh in on federal decisions impacting their communities is the most important guarantee of the current CEQ regulations. This notice strongly suggests CEQ intends to limit the public’s ability to participate in federal decision-making.
  • Potential Conflicts of Interest: Applicants could be allowed to prepare their own environmental impact statements, thus eliminating objective analyses about the environmental and related social and economic effects of their proposal.
  • Imposition of hard deadlines for project approval: Establishing hard deadlines for project approval regardless of project size, complexity, and impact or the degree of public controversy over a proposal.
  • Inappropriate categorical exclusions and waivers on environmental review: When used correctly, Categorical Exclusions (CEs) can streamline the approval of actions that a federal agency has researched and demonstrated do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment. When used inappropriately, CEs can be used to steamroll public concerns and capitulate to corporate interests that elevate their profits over the public interest.

Excerpts of over 100 pages submitted: 

Rather than contemplating a rewrite of the regulations, we urge that CEQ invest its modest resources, and most importantly, its leadership position, in a systematic initiative to enforce them. Changes to the regulations will not result in improvements unless federal agencies have the organizational structure and resources that facilitate their implementation. 

The promise of the NEPA process—that the government will consider the environmental impacts of its decisions, disclose those impacts to those affected, and ensure the public has an opportunity to meaningfully weigh in—is at the heart of democracy. These democratic principles enshrined in NEPA explain why it is among the most widely exported laws the United States has ever passed, with over 160 countries adopting similar legislation. 

In light of other administrative actions taken over the course of the last year, it is clear this rule-making is part of a broader and deeply troubling ideological effort to reduce or eliminate public contributions to decision-making by agencies expending public funds. Those efforts include processes to dismantle NEPA regulations in order to cater to special interests of developers and industry polluters — rather than the interests of the public for whom these regulations are intended to benefit. 

CEQ’s guidance on “Appropriate Use of Mitigation and Monitoring and Clarifying the Appropriate Use of Mitigated Findings of No Significant Impact” is an excellent document. Mitigation and monitoring are often the neglected part of the NEPA process. It is essential to the integrity of the process that mitigation be capable of being implemented, that it is implemented and that it is monitored. We are concerned that ineffective mitigation measures have been used as a means to overlook environmental and community harms having significant impact.