The Trojan Horse in the proposed NEPA Revisions

Given that I’m not particularly versed in policy speak, the three weeks I spent reviewing the Administration’s proposed revisions (read “evisceration”) of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was for me a tedious task. This was especially in light of the Council on Environmental Quality’s impulse to festoon clear, intentional text with contorted and ambiguating garbage.

Replacing “shall” with “should” and “evaluate” with “consider” were easy catches. But for the most part I had to leave the statute and code citations to the abler minds of our policy colleagues. But one citation kept coming up raised my eyebrow; EO13807 “Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects”

It is unusual to cite an external document not specific to the Act within the act. This one referring to Transportation Infrastructure was odd. And this one shows up ten times in a 61 page document. All I could figure was that the Executive Order somehow subordinated NEPA.

I don’t want to get too far into the weeds here, but EO 13807 really has to do with deregulating transportation infrastructure construction. “So what might it be doing in NEPA?” he asks, scratching his head.

It became clear to me a week before the public comment period closed, when the Whitehouse orchestrated a conference call on the proposed revisions. After a few presentations about their plan, the presenters took questions from “the public” – four industry shills ‘asking’ congratulatory questions about the revisions. And the comments all leaned heavily into transportation infrastructure permitting and regulations.

This is when it occurred to me that EO 13807 was a Trojan Horse, literally paving the way for the infrastructure bill advanced by the Administration just a few months into their term that sank fast because it was universally reviled. This was the bill that would lock us into fossil-fueled transportation for the next 30 years while privatizing our roads, bridges, waterways, and freeway rest areas.

Imaging having to pay a toll on most of your travels, or pony up $10 to rest your eyes or take a leak when driving on the Interstate freeways? This is what seems to be embedded in the proposed revisions by way of EO 13807. Something we must stop at all costs.

I typically keep my comments to Environmental Impact Statements – or in this case a “Notice of Proposed Rule-Making” pretty level minded. Although this time I was tempted to use “potty language” for the shear absurdity of the proposed revisions. But once I found the Trojan Horse in the works, I had to call out the cowardice of the Council on Environmental Quality for concealing a reprehensible strategy in an otherwise despicable proposal.

Fortunately there are many other organizations who have lodged comments on the proposed changes – many of whom are much more qualified than I to excavate a tangled policy document. Hopefully with all of our efforts, the evisceration of NEPA won’t take place before the next presidential election – when we have a chance to pull the plug on the industrial coup of our nation.

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