A coalition of 21 states sued the Trump administration Friday for rolling back what they say is a “rule that is, at its heart, the gutting” of America’s bedrock environmental law.
The White House in July finalized a rollback of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which for 50 years has required the government to weigh environmental and community concerns before approving pipelines, highways, drilling permits, new factories or any major action on federal lands.
Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson (D) called the law the Magna Carta of environmental law.
“NEPA requires something basic, but very important from the federal government,” he said. “It basically requires the federal government to look before they leap. Pretty straightforward. Look at the science, look at the impacts. What’s going to happen if we go forward?
“What the Trump administration wants to do is put blinders on before the federal government leaps, so we don’t know what those impacts are.”
The rewrite of NEPA removes requirements to consider climate change before proceeding on a project.
Protocols for weighing concerns from nearby communities — often communities of color — would become far more complex.
It also opens the door for more industry involvement in reviewing the environmental effects of their projects or nixing reviews entirely for some projects that receive little federal funding. President Trump has repeatedly called NEPA the “single biggest obstacle” to major construction projects.
The White House, which promulgated the rule through its Council on Environmental Quality, said it does not comment on litigation.
The Trump administration has already faced multiple lawsuits from various environmental groups challenging its rollback on NEPA.
The suit from the states offers similar arguments: The Trump administration violated both the Administrative Procedures Act (APA), which lays out the technical process for changing rules, and undermined the very basis of NEPA itself.
“The Trump administration is impatient; the Trump administration is sloppy, and the Trump administration doesn’t like to do its homework. And the result is that oftentimes before we can get to the substance of the matter, we beat them on the procedure; we beat them because they didn’t go to court, or they didn’t go through the regulatory process and try to implement it the right way,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said.
“We’re able to succeed because on the substance we’ve got those great allies — the facts, the science and the law with us — but it also helps that these guys are just plain sloppy and impatient. And it really helps us have a record of success.”
The suit, filed in the Northern District of California, is California’s 100th suit against the Trump administration, and it’s 51st challenging a bevy of environmental rollbacks.
It asks the court to throw out the rule entirely, arguing it undermines NEPA itself, which “prioritizes careful, informed decision making over rushed and reckless action,” the states write.
The rewritten rule would also lead to “uninformed federal decisions that adversely impact vulnerable communities,” they argue, such as the black, brown, and poor communities that are already overburdened by polluting projects ranging from factories to highways.
Becerra equated the need for the latest suit to Trump’s decision to hold his acceptance speech for the Republican National Convention on the grounds of the White House — a move experts say violates ethics laws such as the Hatch Act.
“This week has made pretty clear this administration is willing to go beyond the edge when it comes to how it governs, to the point where they go over the cliff and do things that are clearly unlawful,” he said.
The suit was filed by California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin.