Juan Mancias, Chairman of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe of Texas, speaks against changes in federal environmental policy at a rally in Denver, Colorado, on February 11, 2020. Photo: Angel Amaya / Western Organization of Resource Councils

Native Sun News Today: Rollback of environmental law lambasted

DENVER – Indigenous leaders were among the many who raised their voices here February 11 at one of only two hearings in the whole United States on a White House proposal to roll back guarantees of public participation in environmental decision making.

Coming from rural communities throughout the West, they rallied to an urban backdrop of street music, sirens and jackhammer sounds in the snow and ice outside of EPA Region 8 headquarters.

Testifying inside, they told the White House Council on Environmental Quality to abandon recent proposals that would reduce public comment opportunities and would curb consideration of projects’ cumulative impacts in regulatory rulings pursuant to the bedrock National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

Juan Mancias, chairman of the Carrizo Comecrudo Tribe, who traveled here from his native Lower Rio Grande Valley, spoke against the NEPA revisions, noting that the tribe has sued the federal government for the Administration’s two-year-old waiver of that law and 27 others. The waiver was for the purpose of building a wall between the United States and Mexico.

“We need to protect every voice, even the saguaro cactus. It takes us. It affects who we are. We are the original people of the land and we’re having to fight,” Mancias said, explaining that the wall is slated for construction three miles from the U.S.-Mexico border such that liquefied natural gas facilities, pipelines and other private projects behind the wall could be exempt from standard oversight while occupying ancestral land claims.

“NEPA isn’t just an environmental protection law, it’s a critical tool for ensuring our voice. We cannot afford to lose...

Posted by Western Organization of Resource Councils on Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Council on Environmental Quality points out that it needs to “modernize” and “update” regulations to “facilitate more efficient, effective, and timely NEPA reviews by simplifying and clarifying regulatory requirements.”

Its notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register on January 10 is designed to “reduce unnecessary paperwork and delays, and to promote better decision-making,” it says.

It responds to U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2017 Executive Order 13807 establishing a “One Federal Decision” policy, including a two-year goal for completing environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects.

“The increased costs and complexity of NEPA reviews and litigation make it very challenging for large and small businesses to plan, finance, and build projects in the United States,” the council says in a fact sheet.

However, the rules also apply to reviews of government projects, notes Lisa DeVille, who testified about the proposal on behalf of Ft. Berthold POWER (Protectors of Water and Earth Rights), from Mandaree, North Dakota.

“For tribal communities like Fort Berthold, which bear the brunt of health problems such as heart disease and asthma from the poorly planned federal projects, NEPA isn’t just an environmental protection law, it’s a critical tool for ensuring our voice. We cannot afford to lose it,” said DeVille, a tribal member of the Mandan Hidatsa & Arikara Nation.

“Any law that provides broad opportunities for public participation in government decisions that affect the environment and local communities shouldn’t be rolled back; rather, laws like NEPA should be embraced and strengthened. NEPA is one of the only avenues for tribal members to have any input on federal actions,” she said.

Written comments will be accepted until March 10 via any of the following methods. Go to regulations.gov and follow the online instructions for submitting comments to Docket ID No. CEQ-2019-0003. Fax to 202-456-6546, or mail to Council on Environmental Quality / 730 Jackson Place NW / Washington, DC 20503 / Attn: Docket No. CEQ-2019-0003.


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Contact Talli Nauman at talli.nauman@gmail.com

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