Great Lakes Environmental Directory Great Lakes Great Lakes environment Great Lakes grants exotic species water pollution water export drilling environment Great Lakes pollution Superior Michigan Huron Erie Ontario ecology Great Lakes issues wetlands Great Lakes wetlands Great Lakes Great Lakes environment Great Lakes watershed water quality exotic species Great Lakes grants water pollution water export oil gas drilling environment environmental Great Lakes pollution Lake Superior Lake Michigan Lake Huron Lake Erie Lake Ontario Great Lakes ecology Great Lakes issues Great Lakes wetlands Great Lakes Resources Great Lakes activist Great Lakes environmental organizations Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat air pollution alien species threatened rare endangered species ecological Great Lakes information Success Stories Great Lakes Directory Home/News Great Lakes Calendar Great Lakes jobs/volunteering Search Great Lakes Organizations Take Action! Contact Us Resources/Links Great Lakes Issues Great Lakes News Article About Us Networking Services

Undermining Environmental Law
New York Times

In issues large and small, the Bush administration has spent the better part of two years rolling back Bill Clinton's environmental legacy. It has abandoned the Kyoto accord on global warming, weakened protections for wetlands and eased mining laws. Now it appears to be aiming at even bigger game - the National Environmental Policy Act, regarded as the Magna Carta of environmental protection and perhaps the most important of all the environmental statutes signed into law by Richard Nixon three decades ago.

The act, NEPA for short, is no stranger to controversy. Bureaucrats blame it for gridlock, commercial interests for blocking progress. Environmentalists, of course, love it, as well they should.

The act is essentially a sunshine law. It requires all federal agencies to make a detailed assessment of the consequences of any project likely to have a significant impact on the environment, and make that assessment available for comment from the public and other federal agencies. The law does not mandate particular outcomes. Its purpose is to keep federal agencies from doing destructive things - clear-cutting forests, straightening rivers, destroying wildlife in the name of development - under cover of darkness. And over the years it has done a world of good.

The Bush administration has been seeking to ignore or limit the reach of this statute in three main areas. The clearest example is forest policy. Mr. Bush's "Healthy Forests" initiative, now the subject of intense debate in Congress, would ease NEPA requirements for timber projects that the federal government deems necessary to prevent fires. Conservationists believe that many such projects are in fact camouflage for commercial logging. They are worried, and rightly so, that suspending NEPA could lead to widespread environmental degradation for no other purpose than to enrich the timber companies.

Energy policy has been equally troublesome. Though President Bush has never hidden his desire to open up vast expanses of the public lands to oil and gas drilling, the White House has always insisted that it had no intention of end-running NEPA. But in fact it has. In recent months, at least two projects - a 77,000-well methane project in Wyoming and Montana, and a seismic testing project near Arches National Park in Utah - have been challenged (and may ultimately be significantly revised) because the administration failed to do the necessary environmental reviews.

The administration has also tried to limit the law's reach offshore. In a recent court case, involving a Navy plan to test sonar devices off the Pacific Coast, the Justice Department argued that the Navy was under no obligation to assess potential harm to marine life. The Natural Resources Defense Council sued, arguing that not only did the law apply but that suspending it in this case would open the door to a range of unregulated and potentially destructive activities, including ocean dumping and the overfishing of depleted species.

The judge sided with the environmentalists, who, though pleased with the ruling, regard it as only a temporary respite in the NEPA wars. Even now, a White House task force is working on ways to "enhance" the act by streamlining it. That sounds innocent enough, but based on the administration's behavior so far, some fear that the real intent is not to streamline the process but to circumvent it, perhaps by executive order. Congress, which wrote this law 33 years ago, must be alert to any effort to undermine it.

Great Lakes environmental information

Return to Great Lakes Directory Home/ Site Map