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Shared from the 2/11/2020 The Denver Post eEdition

By Diana DeGette and Gina McCarthy

Given the divisiveness of our politics these days, it may seem hard to believe that protecting our environment hasn’t always been such a highly partisan issue.

In fact, just a half a century ago, members of Congress from both political parties — and from all corners of our country — came together to pass a landmark piece of legislation that gave Americans the ability to challenge a major federal project if it threatened to harm our environment.

The National Environmental Policy Act, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon, requires federal agencies to listen to citizens’ concerns about a project and take into consideration the environmental impact that a proposed project may have.

Specifically, NEPA requires our federal government to “promote the widest range of beneficial uses of the environment without undesirable and unintentional consequences.” And, courts have ruled that in order to fulfill this requirement, our federal agencies must consider how a major project — such as the construction of a highway, pipeline, or coal mine — would affect our climate crisis.

Despite the widespread support this important environmental law has received over the years, the Trump administration announced recently that it wants to gut core protections this law provides. And it has proposed a new rule that could effectively take climate change considerations off the table. NEPA was enacted to fix a system that was once broken — one that allowed agencies to divide and destroy neighborhoods so a highway could be built; one that allowed them to build dams without any thought about how they would affect the local salmon runs or native fishing grounds; one that led to federal taxpayers spending billions of dollars on projects that were later found to be devastating to our environment.

By simply requiring that our public agencies take the public’s input into consideration, NEPA has helped us avoid several major catastrophes. In fact, it was the public’s input that convinced the U.S. Forest Service to stop the clearcutting of aspen groves in Colorado’s Gunnison National Forest and stopped oil drilling on 30,000 acres in Colorado’s North Fork Valley.

And when the Bureau of Land Management approved a new coal mining operation on the doorstep of Bryce Canyon National Park last year, it was NEPA that gave the public the ability to go to court and challenge BLM’s decision to approve that project without serious consideration of how burning the mined coal would exacerbate our climate crisis.

Yet, despite the widespread success this commonsense law has had, the Trump administration is trying to gut it — and, if that weren’t egregious enough, they are trying to short-circuit the process to get their changes enacted as soon as possible.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration will hold its one and only public field hearing on this proposal right here in Denver. While more than 75 Coloradans have already signed up to voice their concerns with the plan at this event — there are thousands more across the country who would also like the opportunity to speak out against this dangerous new proposal as well.

Cutting off the American people’s ability to challenge their government’s decisions is a dangerous path to start our country down. The people of Colorado — and our country as a whole — should be outraged. And it’s up to us to prevent this dangerous new plan from taking effect.

Diana DeGette represents Colorado’s First Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives and Gina McCarthy was the administrator of the EPA from 2013 to 2017 and is the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

 

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