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The National Environmental Policy Act Matters—Here's Why

By rolling back of one of our country's bedrock environmental laws, the Trump administration is jeopardizing the health of wildlife and marginalized communities across the country.

Over the last five decades, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has required federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of proposed projects before they are approved. NEPA also requires that the public have opportunities to comment on those evaluations, providing direct feedback to administrators on how projects might impact the health and well-being of their own communities.

This crucial law has helped decision-makers better understand the negative effects pipelines, highways and other projects can have on marginalized communities, habitats and wildlife. The sidelining of the Keystone XL pipeline is a recent example of NEPA in action. Locally, efforts to restore the oyster population throughout the Chesapeake Bay have been informed by NEPA processes.

Large development and industrial projects disproportionately affect poor communities, including many communities of color. Pollution, fractured infrastructure and lack of access to natural resources are just a few examples of how development projects can directly impact the health, safety and economic prosperity of these front-line communities.

Inspecting an Oyster at Masonville Cove Bioblitz

At a time when we're trying to overcome the serious health, environmental and social challenges facing our country, federal decision-makers should be doing more—not less—to ensure a healthy and equitable environment for all Americans. Organizations and concerned members of the public should continue to put pressure on our lawmakers to ensure these protective laws are not weakened.

Though this recent NEPA setback is disappointing, there are quite a few other positive policy advancements that would help promote justice and climate action! Here are a few highlights:

  • Last month, the House's Select Committee on the Climate Crisis released a comprehensive action plan that summarizes a years-long effort by the committee to engage in public hearings and community conversations around climate solutions. Their plan includes a prioritization of environmental justice work and strategies to significantly curb global warming emissions and increase climate resilience. The plan has been well received by environmental organizations and scientists.
  • This week, Congress passed the Great American Outdoors Act, which aims to ensure our national parks and public lands are restored to their full glory, allow for increased access to these natural spaces and create jobs. Another conservation bill with bipartisan support, America's Conservation Enhancement Act, is currently being considered by Congress and would help to strengthen current protections for wildlife.

At this moment in our history, we're learning just how much individual actions can impact collective systems. For those who want to help advocate for environmental protections, complete the 2020 Census, register to vote and make sure you know who your representatives are.

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