WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, today released the following comments on the Trump administration’s attempt to shrink the protections of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a bedrock environmental standard that requires federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of proposed projects before they are approved. Importantly, NEPA also gives the public and interest groups the ability to comment on those evaluations.
“This week, the Trump administration’s Council for Environmental Quality announced the final rule for carrying out NEPA, one of our nation’s first and most influential federal environmental policies, referred to as the Magna Carta of environmental law. In the Trump administration’s final rule, we see a clear insult to the congressional intent of NEPA – and even clearer ignorance of the law’s lengthy list of accomplishments.
“NEPA is the primary avenue through which citizens can influence federal decision making on projects that affect their communities and thus plays an essential role in fighting environmental injustice. The law ensures that the federal government considers the environment in the decision-making process, from determining the route or a highway or bridge to permitting a natural gas pipeline. A strong NEPA process reflects a respect for our citizens’ right to clean air, water and a participatory role in projects that shape their daily lives.”
“NEPA is essential to protecting the health and wellbeing of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and its 18.2 million inhabitants. My Senate colleagues and I have joined thousands of citizens and stakeholders in opposing the new rule. After the proposed changes were announced, I cosponsored Senator Carper’s Senate Resolution to protect NEPA requirements and enforcement. I also signed a letter to Mary Neumayr, the Chair of the CEQ, in February 2020 to oppose the harmful implications of the rule change to climate change. In March 2020, I led my Senate colleagues on a comment letter expressing opposition to the rule changes for their impact transportation decisions specifically. I also joined my bicameral colleagues on a letter to President Trump in July to further express opposition to the revisions, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted disparate health outcomes in communities of color.
“In the Chesapeake Bay, one NEPA success story especially clearly illustrates the value of assessing cumulative impacts. In 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released a final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement on its five-year study of the introduction of non-native oyster species to the Chesapeake Bay, the Crassostrea ariakensis (also known as the Suminoe Oyster) to support the recovery of oyster populations. The Corps, Maryland and Virginia were the lead agencies for study. Cooperating federal agencies included the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration. The Potomac River Fisheries Commission and Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission also participated in the PEIS process. And members of the public were allowed multiple opportunities to participate along the way. NEPA provided the framework to make all of this collaboration possible. Ultimately, the process found that the ecological risks to the Chesapeake Bay were unacceptable. Potentially, without the cumulative impact requirement in NEPA, devastating harm to an entire ecosystem could have resulted. NEPA prevented it.
“Our subsequent generations deserve similar, if not strengthened, environmental protections. The Trump administration’s latest actions on NEPA move us in the wrong direction.”