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Earthrise Leads Efforts to Fight Proposed Changes to NEPA

March 16, 2020

  • Professor Tom Buchele

Earthrise Law Center, a clinic of Lewis & Clark Law School, recently submitted extensive comments on the government’s proposed changes to the regulations promulgated by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) that set out most of the substantive requirements for how federal agencies must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Earthrise co-director and managing attorney, professor Tom Buchele is one of the leading authors of the comments, supported by work from current student (and future Legal Fellow) Bridgett Buss’20, senior staff attorney Kevin Cassidy ’02, and legal fellow Dani Replogle’19. Buchele was recently interviewed about the proposed changes by Oregon Public Broadcasting and by Bloomberg American Health Initiative podcast.

NEPA and the current CEQ regulations require federal agencies to draft a public analysis of the environmental impacts of most agency proposals, and the public is allowed to review that analysis and comment on it. In this way, NEPA requires both public disclosure of environmental impacts of federal agency decisions and public participation in the actual decision-making process.

Among the most harmful changes are the administration’s proposals to: 1) eliminate the disclosure of indirect and cumulative impacts (such as climate change), 2) eliminate the requirement that federal agencies must consider alternative actions that mitigate or eliminate adverse environmental impacts, 3) present new hurdles for members of the public who are trying to comment, and 4) delete a rule that currently prohibits conflicts of interest when a private company is hired by a federal agency to draft the required environmental analysis.

In the recent podcast, Buchele described one small change that would have a huge impact. “At the present time, the government is required to provide underlying information to the public at a minimal cost. The proposed change drops the reference to the cost. In fact, this would mean that communities could pay potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars for the documents, effectively denying them the opportunity to review a government agency decision.”

Earthrise drafted comments on behalf of its clients the Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project, Greater Hells Canyon Council, and the Friends of the Clearwater. The comments document is included in the related news section.

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