(WASHINGTON, DC)—The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) denounced the Trump administration for subverting the goals of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) with new rules that effectively block the federal government from considering climate change effects and erect barriers to citizen input when deciding the fate of projects such as building a pipeline or expanding a highway.
The final rules arrive on the heels of Trump’s June 5 “emergency” executive order, which CBF condemned, urging federal agencies to waive environmental review and public comment requirements for permitting infrastructure projects to spur economic recovery.
NEPA was enacted forty years ago to ensure the government weighs the environmental consequences of major actions that require federal approval. By requiring agencies to gather public input and examine less harmful alternatives, NEPA empowers local communities to push back against projects that would impair their air, water, land, and other natural resources and harm their health.
This is particularly important for low-income communities and communities of color, which disproportionately suffer the damaging effects of pollution and its health risks but often lack the means and political clout to protect themselves.
In the Bay watershed, almost all of Baltimore, a city with an African American population approaching 63 percent, registers in the 80th percentile or higher for living near hazardous waste. Large swaths are in the 97th percentile. More than 54 percent of the population of Portsmouth, VA, which registers in the 99th percentile for proximity to a Superfund site, is African American. Portsmouth’s poverty rate of 18 percent is higher than the commonwealth of Virginia (10.6 percent) and the United States (13.4 percent), a recent city study found.
Disadvantaged communities are also more likely to experience and less able to withstand the destructive effects of climate change, like intense flooding and extreme heat, according to the 2018 National Climate Assessment. The administration’s new NEPA rules only add to the injustice by restricting consideration of how a project might worsen climate change. Excluding considering of cumulative impacts further compounds the harm to communities already subject to multiple sources of pollution.
Extreme weather, sea level rise, warming waters, and ocean acidification, all accelerated by climate change, have hit the 64,000 square-mile watershed hard. Intense rains increase nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment pollution from the six-state region’s farms and streets into the Bay’s tributaries.
Combined with higher water temperatures, this pollution exacerbates the Bay’s oxygen-starved dead zone, threatening the region’s multibillion-dollar seafood and outdoor recreation industries.Wetlands loss deprives coastal communities such as Norfolk and Virginia Beach of effective flood protection and natural filters to protect the quality of the local waterways the feed into the Bay.
CBF Interim Vice President for Environmental Protection and Restoration Alison Prost released the following statement about the new rules:
“These rules are fundamentally contrary to NEPA’s goal of ensuring that people have an opportunity to weigh in on major federal projects. It is essential that communities have a say in federal permits for projects that pose risks to local waterways and can affect their community. Instead of encouraging local participation, the new rules subvert it.
“Restoring the Bay watershed requires us to protect ourselves from the devastating effects of climate change on our lands, waters, coastal communities, and leading industries. Advancing environmental justice means ensuring government listens to low-income and communities of color most likely to be affected by large projects that could pollute their neighborhoods and damage their health.
“The only thing these rules will accomplish is furthering the Trump administration’s climate change denialism and insistence on putting polluters’ profit ahead of local communities’ health and well-being. CBF is considering all options to oppose them.”