Environmental groups sue to save the ‘Magna Carta’ of environmental laws
A coalition of environmental and environmental justice groups sued the Trump administration on Thursday for its rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It’s the second suit filed in response to the administration’s July 15 overhaul of the bedrock environmental act.
NEPA is a key environmental regulation that requires federal agencies to evaluate environmental impacts and mandates transparency and public input for major infrastructure projects, including pipelines, refineries, and highways. NEPA was signed into law 50 years ago by President Richard Nixon; it was the first significant federal environmental law, and its passage led to the eventual creation of the Environmental Protection Agency. It has long functioned as an important environmental justice protection, since it has been an important pathway for low-income communities of color and Indigenous groups to fight back against projects that threaten to pollute or damage community health.
In keeping with his barrage of rollbacks on federal environmental regulations (100 of them to date), Trump finalized an overhaul of NEPA in July. The changes to the act gutted NEPA’s regulatory scope, changing the definition of which projects fall under NEPA’s purview and which kinds of environmental effects need to be considered in the environmental reviews required by NEPA. Under the new definition, environmental impacts that are “cumulative” or “indirect” need no longer be considered in environmental reviews, and many projects are no longer considered “major” enough to fall under NEPA regulations. “Removing cumulative impacts from NEPA is almost tantamount to removing environmental justice from NEPA,” Nicky Sheats, a founding member of the New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance, said in a press release.
The NEPA rollbacks are now facing major pushback in the courts from environmental groups. Today’s lawsuit, which was filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, was brought by nine plaintiffs, including the Environmental Justice Health Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Last week, a group of 20 environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice, filed a separate lawsuit over the rollbacks in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The California lawsuit called NEPA the “Magna Carta” of American environmental law and said that the Trump administration’s changes “upends virtually every aspect of NEPA.”
“NEPA gives us all a voice,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director of lands for the Nature Program at NRDC, in a press release announcing the new suit. “We will not allow Trump to silence us.”