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Scott Slesinger’s Blog

Using Water Projects Legislation to Cripple Environmental Reviews

Scott Slesinger

Posted September 11, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Health and the Environment, The Media and the Environment, U.S. Law and Policy

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Once again, many in Congress are demanding weakening environmental reviews of major federal actions as the price for passing infrastructure legislation. These members claim that the requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are the cause of delays in constructing water projects. Blaming long delays for water projects on the NEPA  is like a football team blaming their loss on the referees when the real problem is they can’t run, they can’t pass and they can’t defend. Delays are caused by the fact that the Corps has a $60 billion projects ready for funding and an annual construction budget of about $1.5 billion. The delay is caused by lack of money not requirements that you assess the impact of projects.   It's like a political party that wants to cut spending to the bone until its time to get something done for the country, then saying that common sense safeguards that protect us all are to blame. Wait, that's exactly what this is. 

Passed by an overwhelming bipartisan majority and signed into law by President Nixon, NEPA has empowered the public, including citizens, local officials, landowners, industry, and taxpayers, and demanded government accountability for more than 40 years. NEPA is democratic at its core. In many cases, NEPA gives citizens their only opportunity to voice concerns about a federal project's impact on their community. When the federal government undertakes a major project such as constructing a dam, or if a private entity needs a permit so it can pollute the air or water, it must ensure that the project's impacts – environmental and otherwise – are considered and disclosed to the public. And because informed public engagement often produces ideas, information, and solutions that the government might otherwise overlook, NEPA leads to better decisions – and better outcomes – for everyone. The NEPA process has saved money, time, lives, historical sites, endangered species, and public lands while encouraging compromise and cultivating better projects with more public support. Our website http://www.nrdc.org/legislation/nepa-success-stories.asp highlights a few of the NEPA success stories that prove this point.

Over 100 groups have signed on a letter to the House urging members to protect NEPA by opposing the steamrolling provisions in the bill.  Members of both parties should strand up against those who want to cut out the public's ability to meaningfully participate in projects that will affect their community.

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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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