Trump chips away at the shield against environmental racism

March 04, 2019

President Trump seems willing to inflict pain to get his border wall.

What is equally clear but far less visible is his attempt to tear down a very functional and important wall built to protect the health of local communities from environmental threats — the National Environmental Policy Act.

In 2017, the Department of Homeland Security waived portions of the act to build sections of barrier along the southern border, and now, the administration is preparing to roll out a new set of regulations that would undo core components of the law.

“NEPA,” as the act is called, requires review of federal projects before they proceed, among other things to assess environmental, human health and socioeconomic impacts on communities. Properly implemented, it gives every person a voice in decisions affecting the wellbeing of their local community, from providing comments on project design to pointing out how a project could harm clean air and water. It’s far more than an obscure environmental statute: The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe made use of the law to fight back against the Dakota Access Pipeline project in 2017.

And today, advocates are charging that the Trump administration is violating core NEPA protections in its quest to build its border wall.

Simply put, NEPA is one of the most effective tools in the fight against environmental racism. It is essential to ensuring that communities of color, who so often bear a disproportionate pollution burden, get a say in the decision-making processes that are most likely to affect their health, resiliency, and vitality.  And without robust NEPA requirements, policymakers are left to make decisions that will have real impacts without a full understanding of the consequences.

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