On July 15, President Trump’s Council on Environmental Quality issued its long-dreaded “final rule,” a comprehensive weakening of the National Environmental Protection Act. NEPA is not only the nation’s most important federal protection against projects that threaten our environment and climate, it is also a cornerstone of our efforts to promote environmental justice, ensuring that projects assess and mitigate the disproportionate adverse impacts that minority and low-income communities often suffer.
Although Congress alone can amend the act, the President’s environmental council has broad authority to amend the regulations that guide its implementation by federal agencies. I am deeply concerned that Trump’s attempt to gut the NEPA process will have profound consequences for low-income and minority communities, for our environment, and for our global climate.
I grew up in South San Diego, in the kinds of communities most impacted by environmental degradation and injustice. Communities split in half by freeways, polluted by industry, power plants, oil and gas infrastructure, ports, and smog. I’ve spent my career organizing communities to demand environmental justice for themselves and their children. To take control of local decision-making and overcome the legacy of decades of environmental racism. As a San Diego Councilwoman, Council President, and immediate past chair of the Metropolitan Transit System, I have championed a more equitable, sustainable vision of what San Diego can become.
Trump’s weakening of NEPA is a direct threat to the work to which I have dedicated my life. The final rule significantly expands eligibility for categorical exclusion from the NEPA review, meaning that many actions that might have previously required an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement will now require no further environmental analysis, and no formal public consultation, prior to approval.
In particular, the final rule exempts projects “with minimal Federal funding or minimal Federal involvement,” leaving frontline communities that depend on NEPA to protect themselves, their children, and their environment without protection against powerful industrial interests.
The final rule also expands the role of project proponents. Whereas Environmental Impact Statements currently must be prepared by staff at the lead or cooperating federal agencies, Trump’s final rule would allow interested parties—including proponents or their paid contractors—to prepare their own impact statements.
Most concerning of all, the new rules would narrow consideration to only “direct” impacts, rather than indirect and cumulative impacts whose consideration is currently required. What would this mean in practice? Many of the social and public health impacts of federal actions and decisions, which fall disproportionately on communities of color, would be outside the scope of the NEPA process. Most importantly, it would largely exclude greenhouse gas emissions and other cumulative climate impacts from consideration.
It is no surprise, therefore, that oil and gas industry groups like the Association of Oil Pipelines and the American Petroleum Institute championed the changes. If allowed to become official policy, Trump’s final rule would dramatically tilt the balance from concerned citizens to polluters.
Luckily for our climate, our environment, and the frontline communities that will bear the brunt of the impacts, the Congressional Review Act gives Congress the ability to bar implementation of the final rule. Let your congressperson know that you strongly oppose Trump’s final rule. And turn out in November to send a powerful message that the dismantlement of our nation’s social and environmental protections must stop…and will stop.
Georgette Gómez is the President of the San Diego City Council. She represents District 9, and is running for Congress in November.