Cattle graze in the Colville National Forest in northeast Washington. The Trump administration has revamped the National Environmental Policy Act, which regulates activities on federal land.
As the Washington Farm Bureau celebrated the Trump administration’s revisions to the nation’s most-litigated environmental law, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson vowed to sue to block them.
Gov. Jay Inslee joined Ferguson on Wednesday in condemning reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act. Both called the new regulations irresponsible and an egregious example of President Trump’s disregard for the environment.
Washington Farm Bureau CEO John Stuhlmiller defended the changes, saying they will help rural communities preserve their way of life, rather than being forced to yield to the priorities of federal agencies.
The new NEPA rules, like the Interior Department’s decision this month to scrap reintroducing grizzly bears into the North Cascades, signals a shift in influence to local residents, Stuhlmiller said.
“They’re actually very similar decisions, in the same vein of thinking,” he said.
NEPA requires environmental reviews of projects and activities on federal land, including grazing, farming and logging. Over the past 40 years, the reviews have grown too long and too complicated, according to a White House statement.
Environmental impact statements average 661 pages, excluding appendices, and getting a decision from the federal government takes on average of 4.5 years, according to the federal Council on Environmental Quality.
The new regulations limit environmental impact statements to 300 pages and sets a two-year deadline. Environmental assessments, for projects without a significant environmental impact, must be done in one year.
The new rule also clarifies that federal agencies must make broad use of state, tribal and local studies and decisions.
Other changes include requiring that passive voice sentences be made active to make clear who’s responsible for actions.
Ferguson said the new regulations were an “egregious example of the Trump administration’s crusade to put industry interests above public health and the protection of our shared environment.”
Ferguson has sued the Trump administration 65 times. The NEPA reforms will be grounds for another, he said in a statement. “I intend to sue to fight this unlawful, unjust decision.”
Stuhlmiller said the new regulations won’t weaken environmental safeguards, but will recognize that the federal government should listen to other levels of government and to local residents.
“We’ve been clamoring for this for decades,” Stuhlmiller said. “We just need a fair shake.
“Our members don’t wake up daily wondering how to destroy the land,” he said. “They want to pass it on to their children and grandchildren.”
Inslee said the revisions will roll back requirements to consider how projects will affect climate change.
“Our state stands firmly against this flawed rule that ignores clear science and puts the health and safety of Washington’s families at risk,” he said in a statement.
The final rule requires agencies to consider “predictable environmental trends.” Climate change could be identified as currently affecting an environment, but federal agencies wouldn’t be allowed to forecast the future.
“Discussion of the affected environment should be informative but should not be speculative,” according to the rule summary.
The Trump administration proposed the revisions in January. More than 1.1 million public comments were submitted. Most came from mass-mailing campaigns. The Council on Environmental Quality identified 8,587 “unique comments.”
The new rule encourages comments on projects subjected to NEPA review to be specific.