SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today led a multistate coalition in expressing opposition to President Trump’s recently signed executive order instructing federal agencies to use emergency authority to bypass critical environmental review and permitting processes for infrastructure projects. In a letter to the President, the coalition argues that the use of such authority in response to a downturn in the economy is unlawful. The letter also highlights the critical need for environmental review during this period so as not to exacerbate health risks in communities that are already disproportionately affected by the coronavirus and environmental pollution.
“President Trump’s attempts to use the current crisis to jam through an unpopular political agenda – without any oversight or regard for the law – are absolutely appalling,” said Attorney General Becerra. “As evidence grows that communities exposed to air pollution are at increased risk from coronavirus, we urge the President to abandon this order that would give environmental polluters a free pass.”
On June 4, 2020, President Trump signed an executive order requiring federal agencies to use existing emergency procedures to approve infrastructure projects without the normal environmental review and permitting process required by the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and other environmental laws. However, these emergency procedures were only intended to be used in response to natural disasters or other unforeseen and suddenly destructive events, such as responding to an imminent dam failure, repairing roads damaged by a landslide, or responding to an oil spill. These procedures were not intended to be used in response to economic crises, like the one resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
In their letter, the coalition argues that President Trump’s executive order requires an unlawful use of emergency authority that contradicts the narrowly tailored provisions to address emergency situations found in our Nation's foundational environmental laws. The use of such authority to circumvent environmental review would also risk further harm to the very communities that are already disproportionately affected by the virus and environmental pollution. The coalition also criticizes the executive order for lacking any guarantee of transparency and for failing to provide means for public engagement and comment on any of the projects or actions deemed eligible for emergency review.
Attorney General Becerra, Frosh, and Healey are joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia in sending the letter.
A copy of the letter can be found here.