WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) ripped drastic changes unveiled by the Trump administration to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the nation’s premier environmental protection law, that would fundamentally weaken critical environmental and health standards.
Currently, NEPA requires the federal government to evaluate the full environmental, economic, social, and public health impacts of proposed federal action to prove they are in the public interest and represent a wise use of taxpayer dollars. The changes finalized by the Trump administration would limit the ability of citizens to provide comments and help improve projects during the NEPA review process, narrow the number of federal projects subject to NEPA reviews, exclude cumulative climate impacts from consideration in future NEPA reviews, and create artificial deadlines and page limits. These changes could help jam through controversial projects while limiting public input and judicial review.
“The Trump administration’s move to roll back environmental protections that have been key to protecting salmon and clean water and preserving open space is going to cost taxpayers in the long run,” Senator Cantwell said. “We can’t afford the degradation of our environment or the pollution that comes with it when safeguards are thrown out.”
Washington state has benefited greatly from the NEPA review process, which was created by Washington’s own Senator Scoop Jackson. The NEPA process for the 1-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project resulted in the incorporation of critical wildlife corridors into the project to reconnect Washington’s North and South Cascades. NEPA has also ensured that numerous bridge construction and seawall installation projects in the state move forward in a way that protects, or restores, populations of wild Pacific salmon and other species.
Removing NEPA’s safeguards and increasing pollution could have negative long-term health effects. Recent studies have found associations between air pollution exposure—particularly long-term exposure to pollutants—and higher COVID-19 mortality. For example, a report by the NYU School of Law found that pollution-related illnesses are strongly correlated with increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19.
In February, Senator Cantwell sent a letter to Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) Chairwoman Mary Neumayr, expressing concern over the proposed changes to NEPA and the lack of any public hearings scheduled in the Pacific Northwest. “Forcing agencies to rush the review process by limiting the time and length of a review not only reduces the public’s ability to participate but results in incomplete analysis, poor decision-making, and legal uncertainty that will end up delaying projects rather than accelerating them,” Cantwell wrote. “The reality is that funding shortfalls, not NEPA, are the primary reason for the delay in many federal projects.”
Senator Cantwell and 169 other members of Congress also requested that CEQ hold additional public hearings, including at least one in the Pacific Northwest, and extend the comment deadline beyond the 60-day minimum required by law. Those requests were denied in March.