FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: JULY 15, 2020, JUNEAU, ALASKA — The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is dismayed by President Donald Trump’s announcement today weakening important aspects of one of our nation’s most important environmental laws, the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
The National Environmental Policy Act, the law of the land since 1970, gives everyday Americans a voice on development projects — from highway construction to resource extraction — that matter to them in their communities. This right to publicly comment and participate in decision-making around such actions is not enshrined in law elsewhere, and is a critical tool for addressing issues of environmental justice.
Trump’s overhaul of the law, which he claims was aimed at “slashing needless bureaucracy,” actually erodes public participation in decision-making and restricts the public’s ability to provide meaningful input on issues close to Alaskans’ hearts and homes.
“The overhaul of this law is devastating to all Alaskans who care about having a say in what is built and how development occurs in their communities and hometowns,” SEACC Executive Director Meredith Trainor said. “Americans tend to think they get a say in development projects, and in what the federal government does in their communities, because they are citizens. In fact, they get to have a say in these projects, get to see a list of scenarios for how a project gets developed, and get to offer thoughtful input and ideas for modifications, because of NEPA. Any action that diminishes NEPA strips us of our voice in these public processes, and in doing so diminishes democracy itself.”
Some of these distressing changes to NEPA include:
- Not requiring sufficient time for a full Environmental Impact Statement
- Not requiring all project alternatives to be considered
- Not requiring public hearings or meetings
- Requiring all public comments to contain attributions (including page numbers to source documents)
- Requiring public comments to be submitted more quickly
- Limiting the topics that an individual can comment on
This means that when roads, mines or timber sales in Alaska are being proposed, Alaskans may not get the opportunity to have their thoughts and ideas heard at public meetings. And if new information affecting a project comes to light after a public comment is closed, the federal agency won’t have to consider it, like for the Alaska Roadless Rule.
The new rules will have grave consequences for the Tongass National Forest and the people who rely on it for their food and income. Timber sales won’t need to consider the cumulative effects on deer and wolf habitat from 70 years of past logging. Without the opportunity to hear from members of the public who have long lived in these places, local and Indigenous knowledge about cultural resources, important salmon streams, habitat, and human uses may not be taken into consideration by decision-makers. Tribal representatives will be given less time to provide input on public processes that affect their communities, even as development projects are planned and implemented by bureaucrats in other places, who may not be as familiar with the needs of rural Alaskan communities.
Alaska is on the front lines of the climate crisis, and is warming faster than anywhere else in the nation. Outrageously, this new version of NEPA eliminates the requirement to consider cumulative effects or anticipated future effects of proposed projects, which means they are not required to take climate change into consideration. This could lead to the advancement of projects that are known to be at risk from climate change impacts, such as thawing permafrost, wildfires, and flooding, as well as projects that will worsen climate impacts, such as fossil fuel emissions and deforestation.
For a full run-down of what the NEPA changes would mean for Alaskans, please read this blog post from SEACC: https://www.seacc.org/policy_review_nepa
SEACC Executive Director Meredith Trainor, firstname.lastname@example.org