OPINION: Environmental protection in the age of Trump
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has been called the Magna Carta of our nation’s environmental laws. Passed in 1969, Congress designed NEPA to provide for environmentally informed decision-making and public outreach on the part of federal agencies. NEPA requires that all the consequences and potential environmental problems of an agency’s actions must be carefully considered before an agency acts.
Though signed into law by President Richard Nixon, a Republican, the championing of environmental causes is more likely to be heard now on the Democratic side of the aisle. For instance, at the end of 2016, Democrats on the House Committee on Natural Resources accused Republicans of waging a “campaign to attack NEPA.” The Democrats of the committee stated:
“NEPA has proven to be a remarkably effective tool for ensuring that people have a say in federal government decisions that could impact the places they live. Because of NEPA, the public has the ability to know in advance about major federal actions and the right to provide input and have their voices heard. Before NEPA, a disproportionate share of heavily polluting projects ended up being sited in poor and minority communities that lacked political connections.”
President Donald Trump picked Scott Pruitt to head EPA, a person who doesn’t believe CO2 emissions are a primary contributor to climate change and who has been accused of working to “cripple the agency.” With the election of Trump, perhaps the world’s most famous real estate developer, many in the environmental movement fear more than ever that environmental regulations will be on the chopping block.
When Trump signed Executive Order 13766 and 13807, which called for shortening the environmental review process under NEPA for infrastructure projects, it seems the president sees environmental regulation only as unnecessary and burdensome “red tape” to be cut away. Many environmentalists expressed dismay that this “hacking” away at regulations is not helping the environment.
But does there exist a reason why Trump would embrace NEPA? I would argue there not only exists a reason why he’d embrace it but become its greatest proponent!
The effects of population growth on the environment are undeniable. When NEPA was first passed, only a modest portion of U.S. population growth was attributable to immigration. Today things are very different. Mass immigration drives American population growth almost entirely.
There was a time when environmental hardliners correctly connected the dots between population growth and its harmful impact on the environment. Sadly, those folks along with their views were pushed to the side decades ago. Moreover, environmental organizations have retreated from the topic, knowing that their own big donors and Democratic politicians want unrestrained immigration policies.
The connection among immigration, population growth and the environment may be conservationists’ best chance of preserving our nation’s bedrock environmental law. NEPA has never been applied to immigration policy, although the law contains no waiver for immigration. On the contrary, DHS implements mass immigration programs leading to the importation of tens of millions of foreign nationals without any environmental review whatsoever.
There is no justification under the law for this neglect!
If the administration were to be the first to apply NEPA to the nation’s immigration programs, it would only further Trump’s agenda. The public has only a poor understanding of the connection between the environment and immigration. The use of NEPA would allow those “poor and minority communities lacking political connections” to finally weigh in on how mass immigration affects the quality of their daily lives and their environment and express concern of open border proponents who claim to want to protect the public against environmental degradation.
Indeed, the public should have been allowed to do so before the nation’s immigration agencies implemented their programs. Until this is done, the Trump Administration should pause these programs.
Our current system is mass immigration on autopilot with no analysis of the environmental consequences. NEPA does not allow this. Neither should Trump.
Kevin Lynn is the executive director of Progressives for Immigration Reform.
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