Press Release

Trump rule eviscerates “Bill of Rights” for the environment: National Environmental Policy Act

Donald Trump at podium

Photo by Gage Skidmore, flickr.

New rules put polluters in charge of environmental protection.

WASHINGTON, July 15, 2020 ---- The Trump administration is expected to release final regulations that would essentially gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Like an environmental Bill of Rights, this law requires federal agencies to weigh environmental impacts of actions they perform, fund or approve.

NEPA mandates government transparency and gives communities an opportunity to make their voices heard and stop pollution in their own backyards, which makes it especially important in vulnerable communities. Regulations stemming from the law require transparency, opportunities for public participation, environmental studies and consideration of alternatives for proposed projects. 

But cloaked under the guise of cutting red tape and boosting the economy, the administration’s regulatory “streamlining” will eliminate safeguards that protect the air we breathe and the water that comes out of our faucets.

Statement by Jamie Williams, President, The Wilderness Society

“These watered-down rules would turn the whole purpose of the law on its head, giving a greater voice to the worst-polluting industries while shutting out the communities with the most to lose and fewest resources to defend themselves against pollution and other harms. This is no time to put the public’s health further at risk and steamroll community input. The Administration should be focused on healing a suffering nation rather than gutting environmental protections and giving a free pass to polluters.”

NEPA was enacted 50 years ago in response to toxic dumping that was poisoning water and air in communities across the country as a way to protect the basic rights we all have to clean air and water, and to know when the government was doing something that could impact our health.

We expect the final rule to weaken this bedrock conservation law in several ways. It will narrow the scope and constrict the definitions and timelines for projects that would fall under review. It will dismiss “cumulative” environmental effects (shorthand for climate-related impacts). And it will restrict public comments and shift control of the environmental review process to the very companies the law was designed to regulate.

In a separate, brazen end-run around environmental safeguards required by NEPA, Trump issued an executive order on June 4 that encourages federal agencies to abuse their emergency authority to skirt rules and environmental protections.

An early casualty of the lax, polluter-friendly rules may be the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota. There the Trump administration has been aggressively pushing approvals for a copper sulfide-ore mine that would pollute the watershed of that world-famous canoeing and fishing destination and the nation’s most popular wilderness area.

The Wilderness Society filed detailed objections to the proposed NEPA rule in a letter to the CEQ on March 10.

Background: National Environmental Policy Act

Signed into law on January 1, 1970, the National Environmental Policy Act is like a Bill of Rights for the environment. By ensuring that people have the right to know how government activities impact the environment, NEPA enshrines our most fundamental democratic values into federal decision making. The public has a right to weigh in on these matters, thanks to this law. 

The National Environmental Policy Act requires a science-based look at pollution and environmental threats that might otherwise go undetected until it’s too late. The law provides a fair and transparent pathway to sound decision-making about federal actions that affect local communities.   

Undermining the National Environmental Policy Act would turn back the clock to a time when polluted water, toxic dumps and environmental destruction were tolerated. A rule of this magnitude would give a free pass to polluters and suggest that polluters control our environmental agencies and the health of our communities. 


How the National Environmental Policy Act Succeeds Locally – Examples

The Wilderness Society, founded in 1935, is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. With more than one million members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 111 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.    


Michael Reinemer, Wilderness Society,  [email protected], 202-429-3949. 

Brad Brooks, Acting Senior Director, Wilderness Society, [email protected], 208-350-2079

Alison Flint, Senior Legal Director, Wilderness Society, [email protected], 303-802-1404