Attorney General T.J. Donovan filed a lawsuit on Aug. 21 challenging the Trump Administration’s final rule to roll back requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that federal agencies review and assess the impact of their actions on the environment. The lawsuit, filed with a coalition of attorneys general, argues that the final rule also limits public participation in the review process, robbing vulnerable communities of the opportunity to make their voices heard on actions that are likely to have adverse environmental and health impacts. The coalition argues that the final rule abandons informed decision making, public participation, and environmental and public health protections in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and NEPA.
“NEPA requires the federal government to think about the environment before it acts,” said Attorney General Donovan. “My office will stand up for the environment and fight any attempts by the federal government to roll back this bedrock environmental law.”
Enacted in 1969, NEPA is one of the nation’s foremost environmental laws. NEPA requires that before any federal agency undertakes “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” it must consider the environmental impacts of the proposed actions, alternatives to the actions, and any available mitigation measures. Numerous federal actions, from the approval of significant energy and infrastructure projects to key decisions concerning the management of federal public lands, require compliance with NEPA.
On July 15, 2020, the Trump Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality announced a final rule upending the requirement that federal agencies comprehensively evaluate the impacts of their actions on the environment and public health. This will result in agencies taking actions without fully understanding the impacts of those actions on climate change, overburdened and underserved communities, water and air quality, and sensitive, threatened, and endangered wildlife. In addition, the final rule so severely limits NEPA’s public participation process that it threatens to render it a meaningless paperwork exercise.