McEachin Leads 81 Colleagues Urging Trump to Withdraw Executive Order That Dangerously Circumvents Key Environmental Reviews Intended to Protect Frontline Communities

June 23, 2020
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman A. Donald McEachin (VA-04) today announced his letter urging the Trump administration to immediately withdraw an Executive Order that seeks to allow development projects to bypass key environmental reviews that are required by law. These reviews are intended to protect communities across this country from potential adverse environmental effects.

President Trump’s June 4 Executive Order, issued under the guise of an “emergency order” due to the COVID-19 pandemic, would sidestep environmental review requirements under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the Clean Water Act (CWA) and Endangered Species Act to speed approval for transportation, civil works and other infrastructure projects.

“The president’s decision to gut the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) is yet another attack on low-income communities and communities of color,” said Congressman McEachin. For decades, environmental justice communities have suffered from our nation’s legacy of environmental racism and injustice, and NEPA has been a critical tool to ensure their voices are heard in the decision-making processes directly impacting their lives. As Americans demand justice, the President is hellbent on silencing the voices of low-income communities and communities of color on the frontlines of our climate crisis. He should abandon this foolish and potentially deadly action.”

In a letter signed by 76 of their colleagues, Congressman McEachin and and Reps. Pramila Jayapal (WA-07)Nanette Barragán (CA-44)Mike Levin (CA-49), Lisa Blunt Rochester (Del-At Large) and Katie Porter (CA-45) argued that the order would cause undue harm to communities impacted by poor water and air quality while negatively impacting the “overall health and safety” of these frontline communities.

“This hasty decision would increase the risk of harm to the frontline and fenceline communities that have faced the greatest burdens of environmental injustice and structural racism for generations, and are also hardest hit by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis,” the lawmakers wrote. “By seeking to circumvent these longstanding environmental laws, you are making clear that your priority is not to protect the American people. Your Order undermines our democracy by taking away the ability for public comment. Moreover, the nature and timing of your actions – the use of an Executive Order in the midst of multiple national crises – further undermines public participation in the policymaking process and can only be viewed as an intentional act to prevent public input into this drastic and hasty decision.”

The full text of the letter is below and can be found here.

 

The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Trump:

We are writing to express our opposition to your Executive Order signed on June 4, 2020 titled, “EO on Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery from the COVID-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities” (Order) and to request that you withdraw it immediately.

As our nation reels from unprecedented health and economic crises and social unrest, your Order would further endanger the very communities that have faced the greatest burdens of legacy environmental injustice and structural racism. These same communities are also hardest hit by the ongoing crises caused by COVID-19. Your Order seeks to circumvent three pillars that make up the backbone of American environmental policy - the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Clean Water Act (CWA) - and are essential in protecting the health of the American public, which is deeply linked to the health of our lands, waters, and wildlife.

Infrastructure projects bring both benefits and burdens, and NEPA was crafted thoughtfully to minimize the burdens and maximize the benefits of such projects for the American public. It was created in response to projects that were not studied in advance and thereby caused substantial social, environmental, and economic harms, especially in communities of color. Contrary to your assertion that NEPA is a barrier for infrastructure projects, requiring environmental review prior to construction ensures that government officials and the public know the potential harms associated with a proposed project, allowing for informed decision-making as well as the chance to develop effective design and operational mitigations. In short, NEPA and other protective federal statutes, such as CWA and ESA, improve governance and make infrastructure projects better. Moreover, as many federal laws apply to infrastructure projects, NEPA helps bring order to the review and enforcement process. By disregarding the fundamental purpose, functions, and safeguards included in NEPA, you are failing to uphold your duty to protect the American people and are ignoring the intent of and fundamental need for these policies.

NEPA statute designates that it is the federal government’s duty to consider the environmental impact of proposed infrastructure projects on nearby communities. Frontline and fenceline communities – whose residents are disproportionately people of color - live near factories, powerplants, and roadways that regularly expose them to toxic pollution and cause outsized health risks, such as respiratory illness, heart disease, and cancer. Lauded as landmark environmental justice legislation, NEPA was created to give a voice to those who are often rendered voiceless and has successfully allowed impacted populations to challenge projects that negatively affect their water quality, air quality, economic prosperity, and overall health and safety.

The harm communities will experience from your Order circumventing NEPA is compounded with the Order’s evading of the CWA and ESA. The CWA functions to ensure that the discharge of pollutants into the nation’s waters remain within safe levels, and that infrastructure projects will not worsen water quality for vulnerable communities. The ESA is critical for preserving the sustainability of our ecosystems by ensuring that any negative impact of federal and private actions on threatened and endangered species and their habitats is minimized.

By seeking to circumvent these longstanding environmental laws, you are making clear that your priority is not to protect the American people. Your Order undermines our democracy by taking away the ability for public comment. Moreover, the nature and timing of your actions – the use of an Executive Order in the midst of multiple national crises – further undermines public participation in the policymaking process and can only be viewed as an intentional act to prevent public input into this drastic and hasty decision.

As such we urge you to withdraw your Executive Order immediately. Given the urgency of this request, we ask that you provide our offices with a response within 24 hours.

 

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For more information, please contact:
Ralph M. Jones, Jr., Communications Director
U.S. Representative A. Donald McEachin (VA-04)
C: 202.802.1721