August 31, 2020- Tamuning, Guam- Attorney General Leevin Taitano Camacho joined in a lawsuit challenging a final rule that would gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to review and assess the impact of their actions on the environment. The final rule also limits public participation in the review process, even further reducing the voices of communities who have historically suffered environmental injustices on actions that are likely to have adverse impacts on environmental and cultural resources. In the lawsuit, a coalition of 23 attorneys general, led by California and Washington, argue 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.
“Current and future generations must have a voice in how our island’s cultural and natural resources are managed,” said Attorney General Camacho. “We are going to fight against this attempt to reduce the public’s right to know and influence federal actions that have immediate and long-term impacts on communities locally, regionally and globally.”
Over the last decade, there have been several federal actions proposed primarily by the Department of Defense in the Marianas which have had significant environmental impacts on Guam, including the destruction of hundreds of acres of limestone forest that serve as a habitat for numerous endangered species and the planned construction and operation of a live-fire training range complex over Guam’s aquifer. These projects were governed by NEPA and include the Guam and CNMI Military Relocation Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and Supplemental EIS (SEIS), the Marianas Islands Range Complex EIS, the Mariana Islands Training and Testing EIS, and the Divert Activities and Exercises EIS.
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 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.
AG Camacho 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 the District of Columbia, 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.
A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.