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Could NEPA Changes Silence Public Voices on Federal Projects?

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Thursday, August 23, 2018   

RAPID CITY, S.D. – Environmental groups worry the next target of the Trump administration is the National Environmental Policy Act.

NEPA is the process used by federal agencies to assess the environmental, public health and community impacts of major projects.

In South Dakota, a judge recently ruled a NEPA survey was required by federal law, days after federal regulators abandoned a survey of Native American cultural resources for a planned uranium mine site.

Beth Kaeding, who chairs the Western Organization of Resource Councils, says the law makes sure the government analyzes projects thoroughly, even if some don't agree with the eventual outcome.

"I am absolutely pro-NEPA because it gives people a voice,” she states. “And it forces the government if they do it right to look at a project and truly try to evaluate its benefits up against its costs."

In another South Dakota case this month, a federal judge delayed construction of alternative routes for the Keystone XL oil pipeline and ordered a new environmental review.

The ruling said federal agencies "cannot escape their responsibility" to evaluate the alternatives under NEPA.

But the proposed changes would streamline the permitting processes and curtail environmental review.

Kaeding has analyzed NEPA documents for 40 years and says compiling the information can sometimes take months or even years to complete.

She admits it's time consuming, but says it's the only way the public can get involved in large government decisions that affect their lives.

"And I've never seen anything like what's going on right now, where they're trying to take the public's ability to participate away from them, because the agencies, the federal government, are sick and tired of losing, and so, they just want to get rid of the law," she states.

The California attorney general signed on to a letter with nine other states this week urging the Trump administration not to weaken NEPA, noting the law serves as the cornerstone of America's environmental regulatory framework.


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