Attorney General Becerra: Trump Administration's New National Environmental Policy Act Rules Threaten to Harm Endangered Species
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra put the Trump Administration on notice of California’s intent to bring a claim concerning the Administration's ongoing rollback of federal environmental protections that fly in the face of the Endangered Species Act. On July 16, 2020, the Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a rule (Final Rule) that would substantially undermine the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a 1970 federal statute that requires federal agencies to identify and reduce potential environmental harm resulting from major infrastructure and energy projects. On August 28, 2020, Attorney General Becerra and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, co-leading a coalition of 23 attorneys general, filed a lawsuit against the Administration’s unlawful Final Rule on NEPA. Among other issues, the coalition argued that the Administration’s CEQ had curtailed public participation in the NEPA process. The 60-day notice of intent to sue will allow the coalition to amend their complaint to address the Trump Administration's failure to consider the Final Rule's impact on endangered and threatened species, in violation of the Endangered Species Act, the nation’s foremost law protecting those species. California is home to over 300 species listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
“The Trump Administration wants to weaken the best tool in the federal government’s toolbox for understanding environmental impact on major public projects,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Government agencies need NEPA to understand how projects could pollute and harm communities and wildlife. We’re not going to let the Trump Administration dismantle this federal protection.”
The 60-day notice of intent to sue argues that the Final Rule opens the door for many federal projects to evade environmental review under NEPA. Without that review, greater harm to fish and wildlife will likely occur, yet CEQ did not consult with the federal wildlife agencies as required by the Endangered Species Act.
Moreover, the Final Rule instructs agencies not to consider “cumulative impacts” or the environmental impacts of a proposed action combined with the anticipated impacts of other existing or future projects. Multiple intrusions into a single site or habitat can be devastating for the existing ecosystem. If agencies do not consider and disclose these impacts, they will inevitably disregard them in approving major federal projects throughout the country. In short, less frequent and less comprehensive NEPA review under the Final Rule will likely cause greater harm to protected species.
Attorney General Becerra has defended NEPA from degradation by the Trump Administration since August 2018, when he urged CEQ to carefully consider any changes to NEPA regulations and to prioritize the environment and public health. When CEQ proposed to curtail federal review under NEPA, Attorney General Becerra co-led a coalition of 20 attorneys general in filing a comment letter in March 2020 opposing the Administration’s proposed rule change. The subsequent lawsuit filed on August 28, 2020 against the Trump Administration by a coalition of 23 attorneys general led by Attorneys General Becerra and Ferguson challenged the Administration’s unlawful final rule curtailing requirements under NEPA.
In sending the intent to sue, Attorney General Becerra joins the attorneys general of Washington, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Guam, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia, as well as the City of New York and Harris County, Texas.
A copy of the intent to sue is available here.