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State AGs challenge new rule limiting environmental review

Updated September 18, 2020 - 4:11 pm

Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford joined a multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s final rule curtailing requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act that federal agencies review and assess the impact of their actions on the environment.

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. In the lawsuit, 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 and NEPA.

“The National Environmental Policy Act has played a critical role in protecting public health and our environment,” Ford said. “The Trump administration’s rollback of these important protections endangers Nevada’s environment now and for future generations. Nevadans deserve a say in how our own land, water and air is protected.

“I filed this suit to fight back against the Trump administration’s attempt to silence our voices in how our own environment is protected.”

Enacted in 1969, NEPA has served as our nation’s bedrock law for environmental protection. 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. For example, Ford recently utilized NEPA in challenging the Trump administration’s decision to ship up to one metric ton of “weapons-grade” plutonium to Nevada without adequately analyzing the environmental impacts and risks involved.

On July 15, the 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.

In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the final rule violates NEPA and APA because it is contrary to NEPA’s language and purpose and exceeds the Council on Environmental Quality’s statutory authority; is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and otherwise not in accordance with law; and was promulgated without preparing an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement evaluating the rule’s environmental and public health impacts.

Nevada was joined by the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia and Guam, as well as the City of New York, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in filing the lawsuit.

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