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Amanda Jahshan’s Blog

NEPA Attack of the Minute: H.R. 1965

Amanda Jahshan

Posted July 23, 2013 in Saving Wildlife and WIld Places, U.S. Law and Policy

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Oh hey, guess what?  The House has NEPA on the chopping block again.  Shocker, right?  This time it’s courtesy of the “Federal Lands Jobs and Energy Security Act.”  Who comes up with these names!?  While the bill purports to streamline the permitting process for energy projects on public lands…it doesn’t.  In addition to NOT fixing the problem—which is apparently a slow permitting process-- the legislation undermines the National Environmental Policy Act’s (NEPA) environmental review process by stifling public participation, limiting government transparency, and interfering with judicial review.  

The bill language is always framed so nicely at the outset.  Blah blah blah… we should do the economy a solid by fostering development within our domestic energy sector (hey great idea!) blah blah blah… in conclusion, destroy the environment (whoa…settle down now!). Look, we, too, look towards a healthy and growing domestic energy sector to reinvigorate our economy, however we believe that this ideal is inextricably connected to a responsible, productive, and sustainable use of our environment.  

In case you’ve missed the memo: NEPA is awesome.  In the federal decision-making process, NEPA gives the public a seat at the table, and the chance to use it effectively, by bringing impacts and options out into the open. In many cases, NEPA gives citizens their ONLY opportunity to voice concerns about a project's impact on their community. And because informed public engagement often produces ideas, information, and even solutions that the government might otherwise overlook, NEPA leads to better decisions -- and better outcomes -- for everyone.  Like I said… awesome.

H.R. 1965 undermines NEPA by substantially interfering with the public’s role in federal decision-making.   Establishing arbitrary deadlines and enforcing documentation fees ($5,000 up front) for individuals wishing to protest a leasing decision is undemocratic and will limit the collaboration, community buy-in, and well-informed decision-making that NEPA, when used properly, encourages.  When coupled with the “default approvals” in H.R. 1965, arbitrary timelines not only weaken environmental review, but will also lead to increased litigation, delays, and a greater number of permit denials as agencies will be forced to deny projects for which adequate analysis cannot be completed within the given timeframe.  Oh, and judicial review?? NOT ON H.R. 1965’s WATCH!  This bill places outrageous constraints on venue, the filing period, the standard of review, injunctive relief, and eliminates attorney fees under the Equal Justice Act.  Ridiculous, right?   

As it reads, H.R. 1965 prioritizes oil and gas interests over stewardship of public land through federal agency manipulation.  This legislation prevents citizens and local and state governments from exercising their rights to administratively challenge agency decisions, and it renders NEPA ineffective in protecting our health, our land, and our environment from reckless development.   Please let your representatives know that you’d like them to protect your right to participate in the management of public lands.  Tell them that they can start by opposing this damaging piece of legislation.  

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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