The Trump Card: Tarnishing Planning, Democracy, and the Environment
10 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2020
Date Written: February 21, 2020
One of the greatest strengths of the National Environmental Policy Act has been its requirement that federal agencies opening up to the public decisionmaking processes concerning proposed actions that may adversely affect the environment. By mandating not only information collection and analysis but also opportunities for public input and government coordination, NEPA both depends on and cultivates democracy and sound government. For fifty years, NEPA has increased the production and consideration of information on the environmental impacts of government action, while also fostering public participation and government accountability on actions being contemplated by federal agencies.
NEPA’s contributions to informed and democratic governance, however, are now at risk. In early 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued proposed regulations that would overhaul, and fundamentally enfeeble, NEPA and its existing regulations. The proposed revisions would upend decades of NEPA law, precedent, and practice. This Essay argues that CEQ’s proposal, and the conspicuous lack of evidence supporting it, are antithetical to NEPA’s core goals for federal decisionmaking — the considered generation by government of key information; public engagement in government decisions; and the protection and conservation of scarce natural resources. Among other things, the proposal would remove longstanding judicial checks on executive power, despite the absence of any authority to do so. If successful, these and other changes contemplated by CEQ would radically undercut NEPA’s innovative and successful contributions to democratic governance.
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