Council on Environmental Quality Holds Public Hearing on the National Environmental Policy Act

Where are the environmental impact statements on immigration policy actions?

By Julie Axelrod on February 28, 2020

On February 25, I attended and testified at the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ’s) public hearing to comment on its proposed regulations updating the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This update, if it is finalized, will be the most significant overhaul to the CEQ’s NEPA regulations since they were first promulgated in 1978. NEPA, which became law in 1970, mandates that agencies analyze the environmental impacts of all of their environmentally significant actions before carrying them out. But, though the federal government’s immigration programs certainly are environmentally significant actions, in the 50 years since NEPA became law, any analysis of immigration’s impacts has slipped through the cracks.

I was joined by Kevin Lynn, executive director of Progressives for Immigration Reform, and both of us urged the CEQ not to overhaul NEPA without addressing this egregious gap in NEPA compliance. The hearing was held by four officials from the CEQ: Stewart Levenbach, Michael Drummond, Amy Coyle, and Ted Boling. Around 40 to 50 people spoke in total, including U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell and Raúl Grijalva, and members of various environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The overwhelming majority of the attendees were opposed to the CEQ’s proposed changes to the regulations, but a few spoke in support, notably representatives from trade associations representing oil and gas and manufacturing. The major themes that emerged from the hearing were that many groups and citizens consider NEPA very important in giving the people a voice to speak out against actions supported by well-funded interests that will change the character of their own communities forever. What was striking in the hearing was that all of the benefits of NEPA touted by those who showed up to oppose the change apply very strikingly to immigration. Rep. Dingell (whose late husband John Dingell was instrumental in passing NEPA 50 years ago) explained her opposition to the proposed regulations on the basis that “they prioritize a narrow set of special interests who will disregard the environmental well-being of the American people if it meets their short-term financial needs. All Americans deserve the ability to have a voice in federal decision making.” Such words certainly apply to immigration.

Watch my comments to the CEQ here and Lynn’s comments here. All Americans can submit written comments on the CEQ’s proposal to overhaul NEPA until March 10, 2020. If you wish to comment yourself, you can do so here.