January 24, 2019
Since 1970, the public has had a voice in major federal infrastructure projects. But the landmark environmental law that gives us that right is having its teeth pulled.
The National Environmental Policy Act is the nation’s oldest environmental law, widely known as the Magna Carta of green legislation. A blueprint for minimizing environmental impacts while ensuring compliance with federal laws like the Endangered Species Act, NEPA compels federal agencies to consider potential consequences of any “major” project they take on.
When President Richard Nixon signed NEPA into law in 1970, he said it would help “America pays its debt to the past by reclaiming the purity of its air, its waters, and our living environment.” NEPA was forged in response to decades of preventable environmental disasters: highway growth that bulldozed entire neighborhoods in the 1950s, an oil spill in California that came from offshore drilling, and the infamous Cuyahoga River fire, among others. There are few hard statistics on the efficiency of NEPA, but the law has demonstrably improved countless infrastructure projects, saving trees, wetlands, and—yes—money throughout the United States for the last 50 years.