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This month, the Trump administration finalized the detrimental changes proposed earlier this year to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA is an essential environmental law that requires federal agencies to assess the environmental and public health impacts of a proposed project.

The administration is once again prioritizing businesses over the health and wellbeing of Americans.

This move follows an executive order from the president ordering an accelerated timeline for the NEPA process. And it’s in addition to 99 other environmental rollbacks, reversals and modifications put forth by the administration. Under the guise of the pandemic, the administration is once again prioritizing businesses over the health and wellbeing of Americans.

The new regulations shorten the time for agencies to complete environmental impact statements, create a new category of activities that would not need an environmental assessment, and eliminate the need for agencies to understand the proposed project’s impact on climate change.

The regulations also weaken the crucial public comment period in which communities weigh in on projects taking place in their own backyard. In his announcement, President Trump argue that “antiquated regulations and bureaucratic practices” like NEPA hinder economic growth and will deny Americans opportunities for jobs.

But NEPA is essential in ensuring environmental and public health protections. It is a key safeguard that forbids the government and polluting industries from starting projects that pollute our environment, harm our health, and exacerbate climate change.

Many members of the environmental community are concerned that the new regulations will fall hardest on front-line communities. The changes take away one of the very few ways communities of color can protect themselves from harmful federal projects. Advocacy groups utilize the NEPA review and public comment process to block federal projects that could exacerbate the environmental injustices front-line communities already face. Many federal projects that involve pollution are situated next to communities of color. These same communities facing perilously high levels of air pollution leading to adverse health effects such as asthma and cancer.

Fortunately, the new changes and the executive order are suspected to face legal trouble. Waivers of NEPA are supposed to be used in emergencies such as natural disasters, not for economic downturns. Rather than weaken fundamental environmental laws, the Trump administration and Congress should invest in areas that will create more jobs, such as the renewable energy sector and the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Alicia Cannon

Alicia Cannon

Program Assistant, Sustainable Energy and Environment

Alicia advocates for the preservation of the environment, recognition of climate change, and the enactment of legislation that promotes sustainable solutions to our current climate crisis.