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Nessel Joins 22 Other AGs in Lawsuit Challenging Feds Attempt to Curtail Review Requirements Under National Environmental Policy Act

LANSING – On the heels of an “A” rating from the nonpartisan Michigan League of Conservation Voters for her office’s work to protect Michigan’s natural resources, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has joined another multistate coalition in filing a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s unlawful final rule curtailing requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that federal agencies review and assess the impact of their actions on the environment.

The final rule also limits public participation in the review process, robbing vulnerable communities of the opportunity to make their voices heard on actions that are likely to have adverse environmental and health impacts. In the lawsuit—filed Friday, the coalition argues that the final rule abandons informed decision making, public participation, and environmental and public health protections in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and NEPA.

“This final rule is another attempt by the Trump administration to roll back environmental protections in this country,” said Nessel. “NEPA has served as a critically important check on federal actions that may impact public health and the environment. This rule not only weakens the federal government’s obligation to ensure it minimizes impact on the environment, but limits the public’s ability to participate in the process.”

Enacted in 1969, NEPA is one of the nation’s foremost environmental statutes. NEPA requires that before any federal agency undertakes “major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment,” it must consider the environmental impacts of the proposed actions, alternatives to the actions, and any available mitigation measures. Numerous federal actions, from the approval of significant energy and infrastructure projects to key decisions concerning the management of federal public lands, require compliance with NEPA.

On July 15, 2020, the Trump Administration’s Council on Environmental Quality announced a final rule upending the requirement that federal agencies comprehensively evaluate the impacts of their actions on the environment and public health. This will result in agencies taking actions without fully understanding the impacts of those actions on climate change, overburdened and underserved communities, water and air quality, and sensitive, threatened, and endangered wildlife. In addition, the final rule so severely limits NEPA’s public participation process that it threatens to render it a meaningless paperwork exercise.

In the lawsuit, the coalition argues that the final rule violates NEPA and APA because it: 

  • Is contrary to NEPA’s language and purpose and exceeds the Council on Environmental Quality’s statutory authority; 
  • Is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, and otherwise not in accordance with law; and 
  • Was promulgated without preparing an Environmental Assessment or an Environmental Impact Statement evaluating the rule’s environmental and public health impacts. 

Attorney General Nessel joins the attorneys general of California, Washington, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Guam, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin, as well as the City of New York, Harris County, the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, in filing the lawsuit.

A copy of the lawsuit is available here.