Press Release

Twenty-Three Attorneys General File Lawsuit to Halt Reckless and Unprecedented Weakening of NEPA Regulations

Coalition warns that CEQ’s rewrite of time-tested regulations “strikes at the heart of NEPA” and “will lead to more delay, confusion, and litigation."

Wash­ing­ton, D.C. — A coali­tion of 23 attor­neys gen­er­al led by Cal­i­for­nia Attor­ney Gen­er­al Xavier Becer­ra and Wash­ing­ton Attor­ney Gen­er­al Bob Fer­gu­son filed a law­suit today chal­leng­ing the Trump administration’s unlaw­ful, unjus­ti­fied, and sweep­ing revi­sions” to the reg­u­la­tions that guide imple­men­ta­tion of the Nation­al Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy Act (NEPA).

The law­suit chal­lenges a final rule pub­lished by the White House Coun­cil on Envi­ron­men­tal Qual­i­ty (CEQ) in July that nar­rows the range of projects, impacts and alter­na­tives that must be con­sid­ered by fed­er­al agen­cies, estab­lish­es arbi­trary time con­straints and page lim­its on NEPA reviews and jeop­ar­dizes their sci­en­tif­ic and ana­lyt­i­cal integri­ty, and cur­tails mean­ing­ful pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion and input. The attor­neys gen­er­al empha­size in their com­plaint that CEQ’s final rule is com­posed of pro­vi­sions that, both indi­vid­u­al­ly and col­lec­tive­ly, con­flict with NEPA’s over­rid­ing pur­pos­es of envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion, and informed deci­sion mak­ing and the statute’s man­date that agen­cies apply NEPA to the fullest extent pos­si­ble.’”

The Trump Admin­is­tra­tion has spent the bet­ter part of four years try­ing to roll back crit­i­cal pro­tec­tions and undo hard-fought progress, par­tic­u­lar­ly when it comes to our envi­ron­ment, pub­lic lands, and nat­ur­al resources,” said AG Becer­ra. But we haven’t let this unlaw­ful con­duct go unchecked. We’ve fought back — and won. Today, we’re fil­ing our 100th law­suit against the Trump Admin­is­tra­tion. With today’s chal­lenge, our goal is sim­ple: pre­serve the public’s voice in gov­ern­ment deci­sion-mak­ing as fed­er­al projects threat­en to harm the health of our fam­i­lies in our own back­yards.”

NEPA is an unsung hero of envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion that pro­tects our shared envi­ron­ment,” said AG Fer­gu­son. NEPA allows our voic­es to inform pub­lic deci­sions, pro­vides a tool for hold­ing the gov­ern­ment account­able and builds trans­paren­cy into the fed­er­al deci­sion-mak­ing process to build trust. This administration’s insid­i­ous attack on one of our most impor­tant envi­ron­men­tal laws is an attack on the demo­c­ra­t­ic process itself. I will fight to make sure the peo­ple are heard”

The attor­neys gen­er­al warn that CEQ’s final rule:

Nar­rows NEPA’s Scope — The rule dra­mat­i­cal­ly nar­rows the range of fed­er­al actions sub­ject to NEPA review by estab­lish­ing NEPA thresh­olds” — a set of six broad and ill-defined cir­cum­stances in which NEPA does not apply” — and by adopt­ing a new vague def­i­n­i­tion” of cat­e­gor­i­cal exclu­sions that will improp­er­ly broad­en their applic­a­bil­i­ty, even where extra­or­di­nary cir­cum­stances exist.”

Down­plays Cumu­la­tive, Indi­rect and Cli­mate Impacts — The rule directs agen­cies to not con­sid­er cumu­la­tive and indi­rect effects” and impos­es strict cau­sa­tion require­ments for deter­min­ing which envi­ron­men­tal effects should be con­sid­ered,” which will allow fed­er­al agen­cies to down­play or dis­miss indi­vid­ual projects’ con­tri­bu­tions to com­plex and far-reach­ing harms such as cli­mate change and envi­ron­men­tal injus­tice. The com­plaint empha­sizes that Con­gress plain­ly intend­ed NEPA to address” cumu­la­tive and indi­rect impacts, and by per­mit­ting fed­er­al agen­cies to ignore those impacts entire­ly,” CEQ’s final rule leaves cli­mate and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice con­cerns vul­ner­a­ble to death by a thou­sand cuts.”

Reduces Sci­en­tif­ic and Ana­lyt­i­cal Integri­ty — The rule “[r]educes agen­cies’ oblig­a­tions to obtain addi­tion­al infor­ma­tion about envi­ron­men­tal impacts when such infor­ma­tion is not imme­di­ate­ly avail­able,” and allows agen­cies to dis­miss sci­en­tif­ic sources and data by assert­ing they are not reli­able,” an appar­ent­ly arbi­trary thresh­old for which CEQ pro­vides no cri­te­ria. The com­plaint empha­sizes that the final rule impos­es unrea­son­able and unwork­able time and page lim­its” on envi­ron­men­tal assess­ments (EA) and envi­ron­men­tal impact state­ments (EIS), and allows project pro­po­nents to lead EIS prepa­ra­tion with­out dis­clos­ing poten­tial con­flicts of inter­est to the pub­lic.

Lim­its Con­sid­er­a­tion of Alter­na­tives — The rule will lim­it oppor­tu­ni­ties … to devel­op alter­na­tives or oth­er solu­tions that avoid or mit­i­gate adverse impacts” by lim­it­ing the num­ber of alter­na­tives con­sid­ered in an EA or EIS, and by elim­i­nat­ing agen­cies’ oblig­a­tion to “[r]igorously explore and objec­tive­ly eval­u­ate” all rea­son­able alter­na­tives. The rule will also per­mit agen­cies to ignore poten­tial alter­na­tives that fall under a dif­fer­ent agency’s juris­dic­tion, poten­tial­ly pre­clud­ing con­sid­er­a­tion of alter­na­tives that would sig­nif­i­cant­ly reduce a project’s envi­ron­men­tal impacts.

Restricts Pub­lic Par­tic­i­pa­tion — The rule allows fed­er­al agen­cies to dis­miss pub­lic input that does not meet CEQ’s vague stan­dard of speci­fici­ty and detail,” and to unjus­ti­fi­ably claim a pre­sump­tion that they have ade­quate­ly con­sid­ered all pub­lic com­ments.” The attor­neys gen­er­al warn that, over­all, CEQ’s final rule “[r]educes agen­cies’ oblig­a­tion to con­sid­er and respond to pub­lic com­ments” and threat­ens to ren­der NEPA’s pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion process a mean­ing­less paper­work exer­cise.”

Increas­es Uncer­tain­ty and Delays — The rule inject[s] new, unde­fined, and poor­ly explained lan­guage and require­ments into the NEPA process and [sweeps] away decades of agency reg­u­la­tions, guid­ance, and case law that for­mer­ly pro­vid­ed exten­sive direc­tion for fed­er­al agen­cies imple­ment­ing NEPA.” The effect of these changes, the attor­neys gen­er­al warn, will be to increase con­fu­sion, uncer­tain­ty, and lit­i­ga­tion, caus­ing the very delay CEQ claimed that it sought to avoid” by adopt­ing the final rule.

In com­ments filed in March, a coali­tion of 20 attor­neys gen­er­al urged CEQ to with­draw its unlaw­ful, unrea­son­able, and unjus­ti­fied” pro­posed changes, empha­siz­ing that they con­flict with con­gres­sion­al intent and the plain text of the statute and would trade rea­soned and informed deci­sion mak­ing for unjus­ti­fied expe­di­ence” at the expense of the envi­ron­ment, pub­lic health and com­mu­ni­ty safe­ty. The coali­tion warned that the changes would fun­da­men­tal­ly weak­en[] NEPA’s clear direc­tion that fed­er­al agen­cies con­sid­er the envi­ron­men­tal impacts of their actions” and under­mine the statute’s core prin­ci­ples of informed deci­sion mak­ing and gov­ern­ment account­abil­i­ty.”

The attor­neys gen­er­al of Col­orado, Con­necti­cut, Delaware, Illi­nois, Maine, Mary­land, Mass­a­chu­setts, Michi­gan, Min­neso­ta, Neva­da, New Jer­sey, New Mex­i­co, New York, North Car­oli­na, Ore­gon, Penn­syl­va­nia, Rhode Island, Ver­mont, Wis­con­sin, Wash­ing­ton, D.C. and Guam, along with Har­ris Coun­ty, Texas, the City of New York, the Con­necti­cut Depart­ment of Ener­gy and Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion and the New York State Depart­ment of Envi­ron­men­tal Con­ser­va­tion, joined AG Becer­ra and AG Fer­gu­son in fil­ing the lawsuit.

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About the State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter
The State Ener­gy & Envi­ron­men­tal Impact Cen­ter (State Impact Cen­ter) is a non-par­ti­san Cen­ter at the NYU School of Law that is ded­i­cat­ed to help­ing state attor­neys gen­er­al fight against reg­u­la­to­ry roll­backs and advo­cate for clean ener­gy, cli­mate change, and envi­ron­men­tal val­ues and pro­tec­tions. For more infor­ma­tion, vis­it our web­site.