WASHINGTON, D.C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine today joined a coalition of 27 states, territories, cities and agencies in filing a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s unlawful rule curtailing requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that federal agencies review and assess the impact of their actions on the environment. The final rule from the Council on Environmental Quality also limits public participation in the review process, robbing vulnerable communities of the opportunity to make their voices heard on actions that are likely to have adverse environmental and health impacts. In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the final rule abandons informed decision making, public participation, and environmental and public health protections in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and NEPA.
Enacted in 1969, NEPA is one of the nation’s foremost environmental statutes. NEPA requires that before any federal agency undertakes “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” it must consider the environmental impacts of the proposed actions, alternatives to the actions, and any available mitigation measures. Numerous federal actions, from the approval of significant energy and infrastructure projects to key decisions concerning the management of federal public lands, require compliance with NEPA.
On July 15, 2020, the Trump Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality announced a final rule upending the requirement that federal agencies comprehensively evaluate the impacts of their actions on the environment and public health. This will result in agencies taking actions without fully understanding the impacts of those actions on climate change, overburdened and underserved communities, water and air quality, and sensitive, threatened, and endangered wildlife. In addition, the final rule so severely limits NEPA’s public participation process that it threatens to render it a meaningless paperwork exercise.
In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the final rule violates NEPA and APA because it:
- Is contrary to NEPA’s language and purpose and exceeds the Council on Environmental Quality’s statutory authority;
- Is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law; and
- Was promulgated without preparing an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement evaluating the rule’s environmental and public health impacts.
A copy of the lawsuit can be found here: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-09/NEPA-Complaint.pdf
Attorney General Racine joins the attorneys general of California, Washington, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Guam, as well as the City of New York, Harris County, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in filing the lawsuit.
OAG’s Environmental Work
Over the last two years, OAG has deployed additional resources (supported by the D.C. Council) to protect the environment and address persistent local environmental problems, including those that disproportionately impact low-income communities. OAG filed suit against Ward 5 businesses that repeatedly spilled toxic oil into streets and District waterways and forced a landlord to clean up toxic lead paint that put children at risk. OAG is deeply involved in the District’s ongoing cleanup of the Anacostia River, recovering $52 million from agrochemical company Monsanto to clean up toxic polychlorinated biphenyls contamination and $2.5 million from a fossil fuel energy company that illegally polluted the river. Greyhound, in a settlement with OAG resolving a lawsuit over air pollution violations at Union Station, adopted bus anti-idling policies nationwide. Additionally, OAG has joined multistate lawsuits to stop the Trump administration from rolling back critical environmental protections, such as auto emissions standards and Clean Water Act rules.