Indiana Backs Trump Administration Changes to NEPA Law

Attorneys general for 16 states, led by Indiana, submit comments supporting changes that shorten environmental reviews for federal projects.
March 12, 2020

The state of Indiana and 15 other states said they support changes to a longstanding federal law that would drastically limit environmental reviews on federal projects.

Indiana attorney general Curtis Hill and 15 other Republican attorneys general signed a letter saying they support changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, one of the nation’s oldest environmental laws.

Opinion of the proposed changes is split between business interests and environmental considerations.

The NEPA law requires that federal agencies review and assess how federal projects impact the environment.

A Trump administration proposal would remove the requirement that federal agencies consider climate change impacts and narrow the range of projects that require environmental reviews.

Indiana attorney general Curtis Hill and 15 other Republican attorneys general signed a letter supporting changes to the NEPA law.

Hill argued that NEPA regulations have raised the cost of infrastructure projects in Indiana and other states and delayed much-needed improvements.

“These commonsense updates proposed by President Trump would enable projects to move forward more quickly,” wrote Hill. “They would have a positive economic impact and allow states greater authority to govern our own affairs as we collaborate with federal agencies. The proposed updates offer clarity and predictability to the process while at the same time prioritizing the protection of our environment.”

The sentiment is not shared by the attorneys general of 20 states and territories, who oppose the changes.

California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, said the proposal would weaken one of the nation’s preeminent tools for combatting environmental harms, safeguarding public health and protecting communities from pollution.

“The Trump administration is rewriting the law in order to fast-track projects that pollute our air and water,” said Becerra. “NEPA was enacted to provide a critical check on federal actions in our backyard.”

NEPA presser
The proposed changes to the NEPA law were announced January 9 by President Donald Trump and Council on Environmental Quality chair Mary Neumayr.

Both sides of the NEPA coin are being represented by groups in Indiana.

Groups like the Indiana Statewide Certified Development Corp., which provides financing for construction projects, and the County Surveyors Association of Indiana, a group that represents the interests of surveyors who prepare sites for construction, said the proposed changes are welcome and overdue.

“CEQ’s proposal cuts through government red tape by imposing reasonable time and page limits on environmental reviews. This will help Indiana communities with economic planning and help reduce bureaucracy and government waste,” wrote CSAI president and Wells County surveyor Jarrod Hahn.

A coalition of groups from the Midwest and Great Lakes region, including several Indiana groups, warned that changing NEPA could have unforeseen negative effects on human health and the environment in the entire Midwest.

“The NEPA process is critical to ensure projects do not exacerbate the numerous environmental challenges faced by the Midwest. Climate change is a significant threat to the Great Lakes ecosystem and the surrounding communities and economies that rely on them for safe drinking water, commerce, industry and recreation,” the groups wrote. “Our nation’s breadbasket suffers record flooding and crippling drought in a region where large areas of farmland are already being lost to development. Our farms face devastation with repeated losses when they can least afford it.”

Other entities argued that the proposed NEPA changes would also affect Hoosiers locally.

The environmental commission of the city of Bloomington argued that the NEPA proposal’s attempt to eliminate cumulative outcomes and scientific research from any environmental impact statement process would make the statements less comprehensive and accurate.

“[B]oth positive and negative outcomes can very easily be cumulative. As examples, planting one forest plot would lead to a small amount of carbon dioxide uptake, while planting many such plots could lead to a more considerable amount of uptake. On the negative side, the methane and radon outputs from a single area of fracking sites might be nearly negligible, whereas the outputs from a larger project with many such sites might be far from negligible,” the commission wrote.

The changes to NEPA are supposed to take effect later this year, but a lawsuit in Virginia may postpone its implementation.

The NEPA proposal will most likely face multiple legal challenges.

Indiana Backs Trump Administration Changes to NEPA Law