Action Alert! Defend public lands and fight climate change!

Please speak up to defend public lands and fight climate change! Send in your comments today– we need environmental laws to be strengthened, not weakened!

The Trump administration is proposing changes to rules that direct how federal agencies implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The proposed changes would gut key portions of NEPA, and significantly weaken the requirements for agencies to analyze or avoid the environmental impacts of federal projects. Specifically, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is proposing to overhaul and weaken its regulations for implementing the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

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, and the rules that guide NEPA, are under attack. The Trump administration has repeatedly proposed sweeping changes to key environmental laws, and including NEPA. It is crucial that the public speak out against these changes. Please submit comments in support of NEPA and of strong environmental laws and protections by March 10th, 2020. You can submit comments online here: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=CEQ-2019-0003-0001. Below is a summary highlighting the proposed changes that we are most concerned about:

The proposed changes include removing the current requirements that agencies analyze the “cumulative effects” or “cumulative impacts” of federal projects under NEPA. This means, for example, that multiple logging projects on National Forest lands could be looked at in isolation from each other– the agency would not have to examine the total effects of these multiple projects taken together. In reality, the cumulative impacts of several large timber sales located within close proximity to each other and logged within a similar timeframe is likely to have significant negative impacts– including negative impacts to water quality, fish, wildlife, wildlife habitat, and endangered species. However, the proposed rule changes would allow the agency to ignore common sense and disregard these cumulative impacts. Instead, agencies would be allowed to examine the environmental impacts of each of these timber sales in isolation from each other. The rule changes gutting the requirements for cumulative impacts analysis are not limited to timber sales– it would include projects such as mining, drilling, livestock grazing, and other federal actions. 

Agencies would not be required to consider how projects may contribute to climate change. By removing current requirements for analyzing cumulative impacts, the proposed changes would allow agencies to ignore climate change-related impacts. We cannot afford to go backwards on climate change issues– we must, at the very least, require agencies to be transparent about how federal projects are contributing to and exacerbating climate change, and consider alternatives that avoid environmental degradation and damage. We need to strengthen our laws and our understanding of climate change issues. 

Without adequate public oversight, egregious abuses and ecologically costly mistakes are much more likely to occur. This picture shows old growth Ponderosa pines which were accidentally killed by the negligent use by agencies of a toxic herbicide. Hundreds of old growth Ponderosa pines were killed along HWY 20 on public lands on the Deschutes National Forest outside of Sisters, Oregon.

The proposed changes include language such as “[a]nalysis of cumulative effects is not required” and “[e]ffects should not be considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain.” Given that effects to both human health and the environment are often the result of complex series of interactions in nature and the human body, this is particularly alarming. Similarly, air and water pollution can have severe negative effects on both the environment and human health, with the cumulative effects of multiple sources from different locations adding to the overall pollution or toxicity in a given area, ecosystem, or human population.

Current requirements to analyze “indirect effects” to the environment as a result of federal actions would be removed. Further weakening the current requirements for agencies to analyze the environmental effects of their actions, the proposed changes would also allow agencies to ignore “indirect” effects. This would allow agencies to ignore, for example, downstream pollution from logging, mining, and drilling. On National Forest lands in eastern Oregon, this could have devastating effects for imperiled and at-risk species such as Bull trout, Columbia River steelhead, and other sensitive aquatic species which are already struggling to survive. Bull trout, for example, are expected to lose over 90% of their habitat within the next 50 years due to increased stream temperatures as a result of climate change according to the Independent Scientific Advisory Board (2007). These rule changes would allow the agencies to ignore climate change, and ignore the cumulative impacts of water quality degradation and habitat loss for this species. Many other imperiled and at-risk species would also be threatened as a result of these proposed changes. 

Some projects may no longer be considered “major actions” and so become exempt from environmental review, despite their possible significant and negative effects on the environment. The proposed changes include loopholes which would allow, for example, some projects to be exempt from environmental review if the federal government is working with multiple non-federal partners on the project.

The proposed changes would weaken requirements for agencies to consider public comments. Agencies would get additional latitude to ignore and limit public comments, and the public would have additional burdens of ill-defined requirements for their comments to be considered.

The proposed changes would weaken oversight and transparency regarding private companies and environmental analysis. The proposed changes would allow private companies to conduct their own environmental reviews. Also, it would weaken requirements for those companies to disclose conflicts of interest. This would increase corruption and allow for even greater impunity and abuses of power than we are currently witnessing. Companies would be allowed to have increased participation and more central roles in environmental analyses.

Please speak up to defend NEPA, and the underlying rules that guide NEPA, now! The proposed changes would gut key portions of NEPA, and would roll back or severely weaken portions of the law that provide for meaningful environmental analyses, oversight, and public input regarding federal projects such as logging, drilling, and mining on public lands.The changes would put clean water, vulnerable species, and forests under attack from severely weakened environmental review, lack of transparency and oversight, and muting of public input.

Submit your comments today. The comment deadline is March 10th. You can view the full text of the proposed changes and submit comments online at: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=CEQ-2019-0003-0001

Personalize your comments as much as possible! Additional suggested talking points:

The proposed changes would gut requirements for adequate and transparent environmental review of logging projects. Without adequate environmental review or opportunities:

  • Comment on why you think that transparent and meaningful environmental analyses, with opportunities for public review and input, are important to you.
  • Environmental analyses that includes both the “cumulative impacts” and the “indirect effects” are essential to the NEPA process. Current requirements to include a “cumulative impacts” analysis and the possible “indirect effects” of a project should not be eliminated or weakened.  
  • The proposed CEQ rule changes would gut NEPA, and would result in a ramping up of unchecked logging, mining, and other environmentally destructive projects. 
  • Endangered and threatened species will be put in jeopardy of population declines, extirpation, and
    Species such as this Northern Goshawk require closed-canopy forest habitats which are rare due to the vast scope of past logging. Allowing analyses to ignore their needs would lead to increased destruction and fragmentation of their populations. This picture was taken in the Glass timber sale in the Umatilla National Forest (2018).

    extinction if this proposal is implemented.   

  • Threats to human health due to toxic air and water pollution, degradation of water quality, and climate change would increase. Agencies should be protecting human health, not unnecessarily and negligently putting populations at risk. 
  • The proposed changes would hurt medicinal plant populations, hunting grounds, and fishing that people use recreationally or as part of treaty rights and traditional heritage.
  • Communities of color and groups with less access to wealth suffer disproportionately from pollution and environmental injustice. The proposed changes would put these communities at increase risk. We need environmental justice, not the weakening of protections and oversight. 
  • The on-the-ground cumulative impacts of, for example, logging in large, back-to-back projects (which would not require a cumulative impacts review NEPA under the proposed changes) would result in severe negative impacts to wildlife, water quality, and ecosystems, on an enormous and ecologically unsustainable scale. 
  • Similarly, giving agencies the green light to ignore “indirect effects” in their environmental analyses would allow for issues such as downstream pollution, complex interactions that degrade or destroy organisms or ecosystems, and all sorts of other “indirect effects” that would go unchecked. 
  • An analysis of how federal projects contribute to climate change and climate change-related impacts must be included in NEPA analyses. Allowing agencies to ignore such fundamental information is dangerous and puts human health and the environment at risk. The proposed rule changes are exactly the wrong direction for dealing with the climate change emergency or the alarming loss of biodiversity we are facing. 
  • Giving agencies a green light to ignore “cumulative impacts” and “indirect effects” would result in more fragmented landscapes, and severely degrade wildlife habitats. This in turn would mean that species would be less able to migrate, shift their ranges, maintain genetic connectivity, or adapt to climate change. Large habitat blocks with strong connectivity corridors are needed by species if they are to survive and adapt to climate change. 
  • Carbon sequestration will be lost in favor of profits. Logging is the largest source of carbon emissions in Oregon. The proposed changes would make it easier for the agency to log forests more quickly and on a much more widespread basis, both of which would likely increase carbon emissions.
  • 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 unfortunately take a back seat to profits.
  • Public agencies should not have additional latitude to farm out NEPA analyses to private companies. Projects on public lands, and those conducted using federal dollars, deserve oversight that is not driven by profits and corporate bottom lines. 
  • Private entities involved in NEPA projects must be required to declare conflicts of interests. Rolling back these requirements would increase already rampant corruption and allow for even greater impunity and abuses of power than we are currently witnessing.
  • Regulations should ensure that environmental analyses are conducted for federal projects and projects utilizing federal dollars, regardless of whether other partners are involved involved. 
  • Public involvement should not be weakened, curtailed, or diminished in any way. NEPA was passed, at least in part, because of public outrage at being shut out of decision-making concerning public lands and public dollars. Agencies, industry, private interests, and “the experts” were severely mismanaging public resources, often resulting in extreme environmental catastrophes.

Catalysts for public fury and the subsequent passage of NEPA included the oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, and the Cuyahoga River Fire . It became clear that more oversight of federal projects was needed, and that public involvement was essential for giving a voice to affected communities. Current attempts by this administration to weaken public involvement and diminish citizens’ voices are short sighted and lack common sense.

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 more–the list goes on. The current changes proposed to the rules guiding NEPA analyses 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.

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!

Noncommercial logging directly adjacent to Bear Creek in the Big Mosquito sale. This photo depicts what the USFS deemed the ‘lightest touch possible’ for riparian enhancement thinning.

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 CEQ rules and NEPA would constitute a severe and crippling blow to public oversight and advocacy for forests, and would open the door to rampant environmental 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.

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 publicly 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.

Thank you!

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