Permitting Reform Legislation Undercuts Community Protections and Climate Goals

Statement by Johanna Chao Kreilick, President, Union of Concerned Scientists

Published Sep 22, 2022

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin’s proposal to reform the federal permitting process, which Senate leadership has indicated will be included in a stop-gap government funding bill, would undercut protections for communities near new pipelines and other energy projects—communities that are often Black, Brown and Indigenous and already facing disproportionate and cumulative pollution burdens. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, it is particularly egregious that the proposal would weaken the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of proposed major federal actions prior to making decisions. Environmental justice (EJ) leaders have successfully used NEPA over the years to protect their communities from projects that would harm them.

Below is a statement by Johanna Chao Kreilick, president of UCS.

“This proposal includes a slew of changes long pushed by polluting industries. It would allow projects to be approved with little to no public input or analysis of how the project could harm public health and the environment. Exhibit A: the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project. Scientific assessments and public input should underpin projects, not the profit motives of fossil fuel companies.

“Undermining bedrock protections provided for environmental justice communities under the National Environmental Policy Act would be a travesty. NEPA is the best tool EJ communities have to protect themselves from polluting projects.

“If this proposal becomes law, when industry wants to construct pipelines or other energy projects, federal decision makers will be allowed to give greater consideration to industry’s preferred alternatives rather than alternatives that would be the least damaging to public health, the environment and the climate. In addition, impacted communities would be severely limited in their ability to seek legal redress.

“Billions of dollars are about to be unleashed for infrastructure through recently passed laws. We need to ensure that those investments directly benefit communities and address the climate crisis, and don’t lock in polluting infrastructure that will be around for decades.

“As frontline community leaders and EJ advocates have made clear, these changes would only exacerbate the environmental burdens in communities that have long faced discrimination and racism. These changes could also undermine U.S. climate goals by advancing fossil fuel projects with limited oversight. We urge congressional leadership and the administration to desist from advancing this harmful legislation. Attaching it to must-pass legislation to keep the federal government operating is an especially cynical tactic. Congress should instead pass the Environmental Justice for All Act, which would begin to address the cumulative pollution harming EJ communities.”