June 30, 2020
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined a coalition of 15 state attorneys general in urging President Trump to withdraw a controversial executive order that instructs federal agencies to avoid full compliance with environmental laws when approving infrastructure projects.
“Our nation’s environmental laws are meant to protect our citizens and natural resources from irreparable harm, and this administration has consistently shown a lack of concern for either,” Nessel said. “While the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly impacted a wide variety of industries and our national economy, allowing agencies to sidestep full environmental review of projects to boost that investment jeopardizes the health of our environment and is a disservice to future generations of Michigan residents.”
On June 4, President Trump signed Executive Order 13927: Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery From the COVID-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities. The order instructs federal agencies to use emergency regulations to speed the environmental review of infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the Clean Water Act (CWA), and other important environmental laws to “facilitate the Nation’s economic recovery.”
The coalition’s letter argues that those emergency regulations cannot be invoked to bypass environmental review based on a general downturn in the national economy. Rather, they are narrowly tailored to allow the federal government to promptly respond to emergencies that pose an imminent threat to public health and existing property. In the past they have been used to respond to landslides, hurricanes and oil spills: physical emergencies that threaten human health and real property. As such, the executive order should be withdrawn.
If the president refuses to withdraw the order, the letter urges him to, at a minimum, require that all federal agencies publish how they are selecting projects for emergency treatment; publish which projects receive that treatment; and allow for public comment on these projects.
The letter also emphasizes that large infrastructure projects with significant environmental effects are commonly located in low-income and minority communities. These same communities are bearing a disproportionate burden from the COVID-19 crisis and removing the protective measures guaranteed to them by environmental statutes threatens to exacerbate existing public health disparities.
In addition to Attorney General Nessel, the letter was signed by the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.