BY ANNEKE WALSH
What would you argue is the biggest crisis facing our generation right now?
Student debt? Guns? Body positivity? Finding a job?
While each is important and vary in severity to each of us, I would argue the biggest crisis facing our generation is other people deciding the future of OUR planet. Every day government and industry officials, who won’t be around to clean up and deal with the damage they are creating, are inflicting devastating environmental harm. One way or the other, our generation will have to deal with the environmental pollution and degradation, and the devastating harms to our health, safety, economy, and lives.
Now, one of the most important laws that should help protect us is on government’s priority list for rollback, is The National Environmental Policy Act, otherwise known as NEPA. NEPA was signed into law on January 1, 1970 by President Richard Nixon. It is one of the most fundamentally important environmental protection laws we have. Why?
NEPA requires that before the government takes any action that will cause harm to our environment, they have to considered all of the scientific evidence. These facts will help them understand the ramifications of what is proposed and understand whether there are better options available that will inflict less environmental or community harm.
NEPA is also one of the few laws we have in this country that ensures that the public have a voice in government decision making. As a result of NEPA, the federal government must hold public hearings and open comment periods that allow people, organizations, and communities to give information and input on how proposals and projects will affect their lives and the community and area where they live and work. It allows people to protect the environment and our public health by requiring a serious environmental review process before a final decision is rendered. NEPA promotes government accountability and transparency.
Through my work this summer as an intern at the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, I have learned all this and much more about the importance of NEPA. The organization’s work along with other nonprofits, are working to protect our right to informed decision making and our right to be heard. One of the biggest examples of NEPA protection, which I see all the time, is how the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is required to hear from community members before beginning construction for pipeline projects. This is essentials as pipelines have been documented to break and pollute people’s drinking water, risk explosions, as well damage communities and people’s property as a result of construction and mishaps. If the community isn’t able to provide comment on such incidents, concerns, and scientific facts, we would see much more devastation from pipelines being allowed to be installed across this country. Communities are given the power to prevent this harm, thanks to NEPA.
The Trump administration is proposing to make huge changes to NEPA as part of the President’s infrastructure plans. This is the first time NEPA guidance would be rewritten since 1978 with a goal of “streamlining” (that means making quicker and easier) approvals. This would undermine the power of laws such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act by undermining the EPA’s authority to review agencies’ environmental reviews required by NEPA. Trump says the time NEPA requires to review and approve projects takes too long and results in too many delays. So he is trying to find a way to rush projects without full investigation and proper public input.
Recently on June 20th, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) officially announced in an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM), step one in the Trump administration’s plans to re-examine CEQ’s longstanding NEPA regulations. Which are the very regulations that ensure the public is able to participate in decisions that will impact their lives and communities, as well as ensuring government agencies take an in-depth and real look at the impacts and harms their proposed actions may cause.
On top of this, the CEQ was only allowing a 30 day period for public comment. But luckily through the work of various organizations and Delaware Riverkeeper Network, the comment period has now been extended to August 20th!
We are the next generation inheriting this planet and we need to make our voices heard. Now is your chance! Speak up to help protect NEPA.
Below is a link to follow where you can sign on to send a letter to the CEQ in support of protecting NEPA and the fundamental regulations it upholds. You can either keep the letter as is, add on to it, or even rewrite your own comment and send it along.
We as a generation need to fight for our right to be heard and to require that when government officials make decisions that will impact our present and future lives, that they are required to at least take a hard look at the science and the facts.
The time is now and we must make our voices heard.