In Defense of NEPA
Why you should care about the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and how to help
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a bedrock environmental law that provides the foundation for agency transparency and accountability concerning how projects affect the environment. It is one of the most democratic laws in the country, and seeks to ensure that the public and local communities have a voice in how public lands and resources are managed. NEPA requires that agencies conduct transparent environmental analyses and consider public input for projects that may have significant effects on the environment, such as logging, livestock grazing, toxic herbicide use, mining, and drilling on public lands.
NEPA is under attack: Trump and the republican administration have proposed changes that would gut key portions of NEPA, and would roll back or severely weaken portions of the law that provide for transparent environmental analyses, meaningful oversight, and public input regarding much of the logging on public lands.
Please speak up for public forests, and send in your comments today! We need environmental laws such as NEPA to be strengthened, not weakened!
Please speak up to defend NEPA now! Submit your comments today. The comment deadline has been extended until August 26th. Email your comments to: email@example.com or submit comments online at: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FS-2019-0010-0001
Proposed changes to NEPA: The proposed changes would allow for expedited logging of forests on public lands by gutting important requirements for environmental analyses in many situations, and by eliminating key opportunities for public review. The proposed changes would put clean water, vulnerable species, and forests under attack from rampant logging and weakened oversight.
The proposed changes include greatly expanding the use of “Categorical Exclusions”. Categorical exclusions were originally intended to exempt minor actions from environmental review– actions such as fixing latrines or installing picnic tables at campgrounds. Categorical exclusions have already been expanded in recent years to include certain kinds of logging projects, and unfortunately resulted in a loss of opportunities for public comments or oversight, and in negative environmental impacts. The proposed changes would make this situation exponentially worse.
The current proposed changes to NEPA would greatly expand categorical exclusions so that many large-scale logging projects and other actions would be exempt from public oversight and science-based environmental review.
For example, the changes would expand the use of categorical exclusions to include:
Personalize your comments as much as possible! Suggested talking points:
The proposed changes would gut requirements for adequate and transparent environmental review of logging projects, road-related actions, and pipeline or utility projects. Without adequate environmental review or opportunities for meaningful public oversight and input for these actions:
Public lands are already facing widespread degradation and attacks. For example, in eastern Oregon the Forest Service is continuing to target mature and old growth forests, wildlife corridors, streamside corridors, and never-logged forests with logging projects across the landscape. Many endangered, threatened, and sensitive species continue to decline, sometimes severely, and to take a back seat to profits. Streams and rivers are already suffering from widespread degradation due to roads, logging, and overgrazing and trampling from livestock.
Its important to note that the Forest Service and other agencies have a long history of repeatedly greenwashing their logging projects as needed for ‘restoration’ or to supposedly benefit forest ‘health’. Such rhetoric continues to be used by agencies and administrations to justify the logging of large trees, old and mature forests, and streamside corridors; converting old and mature forests into tree plantations; the spraying toxic pesticides and herbicides; and the list goes on. The current changes proposed to NEPA would make it much easier for federal agencies to continue this path of destruction, and strip opportunities for meaningful oversight or accountability.
Speak up today! NEPA is the foundation for transparency and public oversight on public lands. Without NEPA’s requirements that agencies conduct transparent environmental analyses and consider public input, meaningful public oversight and advocacy work would be become much more difficult if not impossible, and in many cases would simply be excluded from relevant legal influence. Environmental degradation and agency abuses will become much, much worse.
The current state of affairs: Logging, and the roads and toxic herbicide use associated with logging on public lands, continue to pose serious threats to clean water, biodiversity, sensitive and at-risk species, and the climate. Only a small percentage of logging projects on public lands face litigation from environmental groups. If the federal government adhered to existing laws that are designed to ensure credible environmental analyses and protection of ecosystems, clean water, and endangered or threatened species, these lawsuits would not be, as they often are, successful.
NEPA has already suffered from attacks that have succeeded in significantly weakening portions of this law, and have resulted in reduced public oversight and greater environmental degradation. The current changes proposed to NEPA would constitute a severe and crippling blow to public oversight and advocacy for forests, and would open the door to rampant and greatly increased environmental degradation and destruction.
While not perfect, NEPA and other environmental laws help to ensure that public lands are actually public, rather than completely in the control of private corporate interests. Logging companies and other corporate interests already enjoy outsized benefits of profiting from public lands, and the public pays for the infrastructure, cleanup, and restoration costs associated with the resource extraction and environmental degradation—often at a monetary loss to the public.
Given the current environmental crises such as loss of biodiversity and climate change, this is exactly the wrong direction to go—we need stronger environmental laws, not fewer or weakened laws!
What NEPA does (and does not) mandate: NEPA requires that federal agencies take a “hard look” at the environmental effects of their actions, that they conduct publically transparent environmental analyses, and that they consider public input. The law applies to actions which may have significant effects on the environment and which use federal dollars or takes place on public lands.
The law does not require agencies to protect the environment, or avoid actions that are environmentally destructive. It simply mandates that the environmental consequences of their proposed actions are transparently and clearly analyzed, and that the public can review and provide input on the proposed actions.
History is important: The environmental laws and protections that we have in place are the result of decades of costly and catastrophic pollution and environmental degradation that often jeopardized public health. Our environmental laws grew out of public outrage over polluted air and water, and devastated ecosystems—outcomes of decisions that were largely made behind closed doors and without the input of the public or local communities. NEPA was signed into law in 1969 by Richard Nixon, and a spate of additional environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act (1970), Clean Water Act (1972), the Endangered Species Act (1973), were passed shortly thereafter. Public outcry about environmental devastation was the platform on which NEPA and other bedrock environmental laws were passed. The public demanded that their voices be considered in matters that affected them and their communities, and put their health and well being at risk.
We can’t slide backwards, or go back to an era of no oversight or transparency, rampant abuses, and widespread environmental destruction. Please speak up to defend NEPA now! Submit your comments today. Comments are due August 26th. Email with your comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org or submit comments online at: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FS-2019-0010-0001
Or you can also mail comments to: NEPA Services Group, c/o Amy Barker, USDA Forest Service, 125 South State Street, Suite 1705, Salt Lake City, UT 84138
The USDA’s summaries and an FAQ about the proposed changes can be found here as well as here and here and here. The entirety of the proposed changes are detailed here.
Thank you for commenting, and for standing up for forests and streams on public lands!