Sunday, January 12, 2020

Three Main Risks to the public from the Rollback of the National Environmental Protection Act

The old and new Tappan Zee Bridge.
As the New York Times reported last week here, the current administration is seeking to significantly rollback NEPA (the National Environmental Protection Act). This is the act that requires environmental and broader impact reviews of major infrastructure projects like pipelines, roads, and bridges.

Much has been written to criticize the move, but I thought I would digest some of this down into three main risks to the public from the rollback of NEPA.

1. The rollback limits the opportunity for public comment on major projects. As a result, there will be less opportunity for democratic action and the building of either support or rejection of a project. For example, if a pipeline is planned for your backyard, you would have a very limited time period to work to try to stop it. It is obvious that this part of the rollback  is meant to dissuade local activism and will hurt local property owners who are seeking to stop a project that is bad for them and their community.

2. The rollback limits the amount of time it takes to complete a NEPA decision. As a result, the research conducted on a project can be slapdash and incomplete. Thus, a project could be approved that shouldn't be approved because work wasn't completed appropriately thereby endangering the public.

3., The rollback limits the inclusion of cumulative impacts on a project. Cumulative impacts can be external issues like climate change or the impact on enhancing marine dead zones. With the rule change, projects that have limited local impacts, but have significant cumulative impacts could be approved thereby endangering the public.

I think it is important to stress that NEPA was developed specifically to protect the public and the environment from the bad actions of industries and governments. By rolling back NEPA, the administration is putting the public at greater risk and protecting special interests.

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