By Nicole Bozkurt, Graphic Designer and Writer
The 50-year-old law protecting the environment from federal infrastructure projects was officially rolled back early last week as politicians hope to spare businesses from a public review of projects. There is now no stopping federal power plants and pipelines from destroying land that was previously protected under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The 1969 National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was one of the first laws put in place to protect the environment by the Nixon Administration. It was created to “declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation; and to establish a Council on Environmental Quality” (U.S Department of Energy, 1969). The act assured that all branches of government undergo serious consideration for the planet’s health before the construction of federal airports, buildings, military complexes, and highways.
The revised NEPA includes a One Federal Decision Policy, requiring federal agencies to process infrastructure projects as One Federal Decision. This process will significantly shorten the time between environmental review and the permitting process, allowing for crucial details to slip through the cracks. The process will also allow industrial involvement in the review of a project’s environmental impacts, rather than a review from nearby communities who are most affected by the project. The new NEPA also removes requirements for consideration of future climate change before proceeding with a project, preventing projects from sparing the emission of a variety of pollutants.
There have been more quiet changes in our environmental legislature as well. Permit applicants are now able to limit the range of environmental alternatives to be considered on their own projects. Federal corporations can also decide to put an infrastructure project in place without consideration for how harmful the effects could be on the surrounding community. Communities no longer have a say in how their own environment is treated.
Although politicians claim that jobs will be more readily available to those who choose to help with the construction of these projects, studies have shown that more jobs would be available with the use of clean energy. The Clean Jobs America report found nearly 3.3 million Americans working in clean energy – outnumbering fossil fuel workers by 3-to-1. Along with greater job opportunities, the cost of building renewable energy is far cheaper than running existing coal plants. By 2025, almost every existing coal plant in the United States will cost more to operate than building replacement wind and solar within 35 miles of each plant (Marcacci, 2019).
While the most impactful way to change the NEPA is by voting for environmentally friendly politicians, there are other ways to help as well. By promoting the use of renewable energy, we are closing the market for fossil fuels. Without consumers to sell their fossil fuels, the industry will be forced to close, creating greater opportunities for renewable energy companies. There is an urgent need for an awareness-raising program on renewable energy that would enable the general public to appreciate, accept, and support the widespread adoption of renewable energy while involving businesses and stakeholders more seriously in tapping renewable energy (Asian Productivity Organization Workshop on Renewable Energy, 2011). Although it may seem that high shares of non-renewable energy will prevent renewable energy policy, this is not the case. Higher shares of fossil and nuclear energy in the national energy supply as well as higher CO2 intensity of the economy do not stand in the way of policies for supporting renewables in electricity production. They actually increase the likelihood of a country adopting such policies. (Schaffer and Bernauer, 2014).
Our nation must work together to promote environmental policy and we must lift up the politicians that address the need for environmental protection. We must teach each other the importance of preserving our earth and light passions among our youth. Our world cannot go another decade with people blind to the crumbling world around us. Change is needed and it is needed now.
Asian Productivity Organization Workshop on Renewable Energy. “Promotion of Renewable Energy – United Nations Partnerships for SDGs Platform.” United Nations, United Nations, sustainabledevelopment.un.org/partnership/?p=2231.
Schaffer, Lena Maria, and Thomas Bernauer. “Explaining Government Choices for Promoting Renewable Energy.” Energy Policy, vol. 68, 2014, pp. 15–27., doi:10.1016/j.enpol.2013.12.064.
Technology, Energy Innovation: Policy and. “Renewable Energy Job Boom Creates Economic Opportunity As Coal Industry Slumps.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 22 Apr. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/energyinnovation/2019/04/22/renewable-energy-job-boom-creating-economic-opportunity-as-coal-industry-slumps/#52f8ab343665.
U.S. Department of Energy. “Office of NEPA Policy and Compliance.” Energy.gov, www.energy.gov/nepa/office-nepa-policy-and-compliance.