Washington (October 13, 2023)- Senators Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-07), and Representative Barbara Lee (CA-12) led a bicameral letter signed by 94 members of Congress to the White House’s Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) expressing support for the Biden administration’s recently proposed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Phase II regulations. The letter also makes suggestions for strengthening climate and environmental justice considerations in the environmental review process.
CLICK HERE for the letter.
Pointing to the widely-opposed Trump-era 2020 NEPA regulations, which effectively “put our nation’s resources and communities at risk, with the worst effects felt by communities of color and low-income communities,” the lawmakers commended the Biden administration’s regulatory updates to implement the landmark environmental law:
“Prior to the 2020 NEPA regulations, NEPA and its implementing regulations helped promote meaningful local involvement, sustainable development, and informed federal decision-making for decades. Restoring and enhancing CEQ’s regulatory standards to more fully consider climate change and environmental justice is urgently needed and fully consistent with CEQ’s regulatory authority.”
Acknowledging the wide-reaching impacts of the climate crisis, the lawmakers’ suggestions for enhancing climate change considerations in the proposed regulations include the following:
- “Clearly enumerate climate-related NEPA requirements, including requirements for federal agencies to properly quantify, consider, and disclose the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of major proposed actions and alternatives.”
- “Clearly describe the need for federal agencies to use an accurate baseline to properly consider the environmental effects and GHG emissions associated with a proposed action and its alternatives.”
- “Direct agencies to consider the broader context of how proposed actions and alternatives help meet or detract from larger federal climate goals, international agreements, and commitments, including GHG reduction commitments.”
The lawmakers also made the following recommendations to strengthen the proposed regulations’ environmental justice considerations, namely public input and disproportionate environmental burdens:
- Do not eliminate or weaken key provisions in the proposed rule that advance environmental justice, “including the first-ever definition of environmental justice in NEPA’s implementing regulations (see proposed section 1508.1(k)) and the explicit consideration of environmental justice in the environmental consequences section of environmental impact statements (see proposed §1502.16 (14)).”
- “Direct agencies to conduct broad outreach to non-English speaking communities, or those with limited English proficiency (LEP), during the NEPA process, including through translation and interpretation services based on the most widely spoken languages in affected communities.”
- “Direct agencies to hold public hearings in environments that are safe, inclusive, and fully accessible to all persons affected by a federal action and exclude the use of venues that require documentation of citizenship status.”
- “Stress the need for agencies to communicate information using language that is clear and fully accessible to both impacted communities and the public at large, especially when discussing technical issues like greenhouse emissions.”
- “Direct agencies to hold public meetings early and often in a manner that facilitates broad community participation, including by providing multiple participation options during daytime and evening hours as well as telephonic and remote participation options.”
- “Include direction and mechanisms in the Phase II Regulations for agencies to invite environmental justice communities to propose reasonable alternatives and mitigation measures during the NEPA process.”
- “Include clear direction to federal agencies to center and thoroughly analyze environmental justice (EJ) impacts throughout their NEPA analyses.”
Finally, the lawmakers recommended that the final regulations stress the importance of examining climate and environmental justice impacts early in the process; consider cumulative impacts from multiple sources of pollution; require periodic reviews of categorical exclusions; and promote the inclusion of Indigenous Traditional Ecological Knowledge.