Annapolis, MD – The Trump administration’s proposal to roll back a 50-year-old bedrock environmental law would disproportionately hit low-income and minority communities, according to critics. They claim such revisions as adding new fees and limiting the nature of public comments would weaken the National Environmental Policy Act.
Kym Hunter with the Southern Environmental Law Center points out that the planned revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act or NEPA, mean developers would not have to disclose the cumulative impact of multiple projects, like oil pipelines or highways, that already exist in a neighborhood.
"This would include things like climate change or oil spills, the type of things that actually really affect low-income communities where you have lots of different projects, which together, add up to something that can be really, really harmful."
The administration says the proposed changes are designed to streamline and speed up the development of projects that help the public.
Hunter disagrees. She says the changes would weaken the law and restrict what used to be an open process. For instance, if the public wants to comment on a proposed project, the NEPA revisions would require those comments to be technical in nature, and cite official documents – making it tougher for average citizens to comment. She adds vulnerable communities could also face expensive fees when asking for an injunction to stop a project.
"It is absolutely gutting NEPA. But it’s also putting in new requirements, so I’m not even sure it’s going to fulfill the purpose of speeding anything up. I think it’s probably going to cause a lot of chaos while also disenfranchising communities."
She says many studies have confirmed that low-income areas and communities of color in the U-S see environmental harm on a daily basis, including disproportionate exposure to chemicals and proximity to hazardous waste sites.