Attorneys General Becerra and Ferguson Lead Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration Rule Curtailing Environmental Review of Federal Actions
SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, leading a coalition of 23 attorneys general, today filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s unlawful final rule curtailing requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that federal agencies review and assess the impact of their actions on the environment. The final rule also limits public participation in the review process, robbing vulnerable communities of the opportunity to make their voices heard on actions that are likely to have adverse environmental and health impacts. In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the final rule abandons informed decision making, public participation, and environmental and public health protections in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and NEPA.
“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 Attorney General 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."
Enacted in 1969, NEPA is one of the nation’s foremost environmental statutes. NEPA requires that before any federal agency undertakes “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” it must consider the environmental impacts of the proposed actions, alternatives to the actions, and any available mitigation measures. Numerous federal actions, from the approval of significant energy and infrastructure projects to key decisions concerning the management of federal public lands, require compliance with NEPA. For example, many of California's state agencies have engaged with the Trump Administration through NEPA in regards to its proposal to raise the level of the Shasta Reservoir.
On July 15, 2020, the Trump Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality announced a final rule upending the requirement that federal agencies comprehensively evaluate the impacts of their actions on the environment and public health. This will result in agencies taking actions without fully understanding the impacts of those actions on climate change, overburdened and underserved communities, water and air quality, and sensitive, threatened, and endangered wildlife. In addition, the final rule so severely limits NEPA’s public participation process that it threatens to render it a meaningless paperwork exercise.
In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the final rule violates NEPA and APA because it:
- Is contrary to NEPA’s language and purpose and exceeds the Council on Environmental Quality’s statutory authority;
- Is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law; and
- Was promulgated without preparing an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement evaluating the rule’s environmental and public health impacts.
In March, Attorney General Becerra co-led a coalition of attorneys general in filing a comment letter opposing the Trump Administration’s proposed rule to undercut implementation of NEPA. In August 2019, Attorney General Becerra, leading a 19-state coalition, filed a comment letter opposing the Council of Environmental Quality’s draft guidance on consideration of greenhouse gas emissions under NEPA. In 2018 Attorney General Becerra and a multistate coalition urged the Trump Administration to carefully consider any changes to the NEPA regulations and to prioritize the environment and public health if the Trump Administration chose to move forward with revisions to its regulations.
Attorneys General Becerra and Ferguson are joined by 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, the District of Columbia, and Guam, as well as the City of New York, Harris County, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in filing the lawsuit.
A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.