NEPA’s Future in Climate and Environmental Justice

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

The Biden Administration recently finalized the first phase of a two-part rulemaking process to reverse some of the Trump Administration’s revisions to CEQ rules for implementing NEPA. In mid-April, ELI hosted a panel to discuss how these new rules might alter federal agency reviews of climate change and environmental justice impacts. This month’s issue of ELR—The Environmental Law Reporter features an edited transcript of this conversation, providing readers with the insights of leading experts in natural resources and NEPA practice.

Wheat fields at sunset

Moderated by ELI Senior Attorney Jim McElfish, the discussion featured Kym Hunter from the Southern Environmental Law Center, Tanya Nesbitt from Marten Law, and Suzi Ruhl from the Yale School of Medicine and Yale School of Public Health.

Speaking as a public interest litigator, Hunter described her team’s efforts challenging the Trump Administration revisions as part of a lawsuit representing 17 environmental groups across the Southeast. She argued that those regulations have particularly impacted the ability of affected communities to provide public input to NEPA processes.

Nesbitt, who previously served at DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, noted that to overcome long-standing NEPA problems —such as delays in completing environmental impact statements—the Council on Environmental Quality should collect more data and evaluate current practices to make informed changes. She outlined how federal climate policies like increasing the social cost of carbon may also affect NEPA reviews.

Ruhl spoke on lessons from her work as co-chair of a federal NEPA committee that published the 2016 report, “Promising Practices for EJ Methodologies in NEPA Reviews.” She described how the NEPA process can provide an opportunity for collaborative efforts—driven by affected groups—to achieve communities’ core needs. The panel proceeded with a robust discussion of questions from a live audience.

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