WASHINGTON -- At a Council on Environmental Quality hearing today, Katie Murtha, Environment America’s vice president of federal government affairs, called on the administration to drop its dangerous and misguided rollbacks on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Here are excerpts from Murtha's testimony submitted to the council:
“This year is the 50th anniversary of NEPA. Back then, this bill was a no-brainer. The House Committee Report pointed out no witnesses testified in opposition to the bill and it passed overwhelmingly on the floor with 372 yes votes. In the Senate, the bill passed unanimously. It was signed into law by President Nixon on Jan. 1, 1970. At that signing, President Nixon said: ’The 1970s must absolutely be the years when America pays its debt to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its waters and our living environment. It is literally now or never. It is particularly fitting that my first official act in this new decade is to approve the National Environmental Policy Act.’
A former 17-year staffer for U.S. Rep. John D. Dingell of Michigan, Murtha also recounted a conversation in which the congressman, who authored the House version of the bill, in which he explained NEPA's intent:
“Well, it’s actually really quite simple, [Dingell said]. For federal projects, it requires the government to look before it leaps. For example, if the government is building a bridge, a road, a port, a building or drilling, they simply have to provide an environmental impact statement, which lays out whether it will go through endangered species territory, an area that is ripe for pollinators to breed or any other environmental impacts. If so, the environmental statement could propose an alternative location nearby that doesn’t have those same issues. It further allows people the right to have a say in what is going on. It doesn’t stop anything, it doesn’t prevent anything – it simply says, ‘We want to know about these things and if there is a palatable alternative, we ought to consider it.’
Murtha concluded with what needs to be done on this issue.
“With that in mind, I will end my comments by requesting two things:
“1 – The administration must reconsider its proposal to weaken NEPA. The changes would allow federal agencies to completely ignore the potential climate impacts of projects under review. It is simply absurd to think climate change is not significant enough to warrant an environmental review. In addition, the new “non-major” project category that’s recommended creates a category exempt from review. At the same time, the rules are unclear as to what would qualify as a “non-major” project. This opens up a possible loophole that could allow mining, drilling or other environmentally destructive projects to move forward without any environmental assessment at all.
“2 - Before any decision is made by this administration, in the spirit of NEPA’s focus on public input, the public comment period for changes to this landmark legislation must be extended to a minimum of 120 days. The public deserves the right to fully weigh in on this misguided proposal.”