NEPA Changes Could Adversely Affect Minority Communities

Kenn W. Kiser photo via Morguefile

by Timberly Ferree

Recent changes to one of the nation’s central environmental laws is predicted to negatively affect minorities, according to Bloomberg Law.

The Trump administration’s move to cut back requirements to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is expected to speed up federal infrastructure projects, reduce public interaction during review and adversely impact the environment.

Advocacy groups said low-income minority communities rely on NEPA to push back against highways, pipelines, drilling permits, power plants and other major federal projects that have polluted their neighborhoods.

“NEPA is one tool that has been used to help those communities stand up and have a voice, which is the first step for eliminating these types of inequalities. Instead what we’re seeing is the Trump administration doing exactly the reverse,” Kym Hunter, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, said.

Several projects will no longer be subject to NEPA under the new requirements. The new rule also impacts the need to consider the indirect and cumulative effects of a project.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality said the rule will increase public participation by requiring federal agencies to provide additional information and request input from the public earlier in the process. It also includes state, tribal and local governments.

Jeffrey Kupfer, a former acting deputy secretary at the Energy Department under George W. Bush, said the NEPA review takes too long, and several years of review are not always necessary to evaluate the concerns of people affected by a federal action. “To me, it’s legitimate that people are concerned and they want their voices to be heard. But I think there’s ways to make sure that’s accommodated without having a process that’s unworkable,” Kupfer said.

Environmental justice leaders say NEPA has been an important tool in protecting the air, water, land and health of minorities for 50 years.

Timberly Ferree is a reporter with Indiana Environmental Reporter where a version of this article originally appeared.

Additional Resources

Report: EPA’s Compliance Monitoring Activities, Enforcement Actions, and Enforcement Results Generally Declined from Fiscal Years 2006 Through 2018
Report #20-P-0131, March 31, 2020 [PDF]

This report by the EPA’s Office of Inspector General focuses on national trends in the EPA’s enforcement efforts, including inspections, enforcement actions, and enforcement results.

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