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Environment & Energy Report

Groups Launch Legal Fight Against Environmental Review Rules (2)

July 29, 2020, 1:22 PMUpdated: July 29, 2020, 4:15 PM

Two coalitions of environmental groups took the first legal shots Wednesday at the Trump administration’s rewrite of federal environmental review regulations.

Wild Virginia, the Congaree Riverkeeper, and 15 other groups with roots in the Southeast sued the Council on Environmental Quality in federal court in Virginia for rewriting Nixon-era rules for how agencies conduct reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.

A few hours later, a large coalition represented by Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center filed suit in California.

The Trump administration finalized the changes earlier this month, seeking to speed up the permitting process for oil and gas development, road building, mining, and other projects.

But the lawsuit from the Southeast coalition says CEQ “cut every corner” while updating the regulations, and violated the Administrative Procedure Act along the way by allegedly ignoring evidence about NEPA’s past implementation and watering down public engagement requirements.

“NEPA has given a voice to communities of lesser means that often bear the brunt of polluting projects,” Southern Environmental Law Center senior attorney Kym Hunter, who is representing the groups, said in a statement. “It is a tool of democracy, a tool for the people. We’re not going to stand idly by while the Trump administration eviscerates it.”

The case filed in California likewise accuses CEQ of undermining NEPA.

“More than an update, the Final Rule upends virtually every aspect of NEPA and its longstanding practice, contradicts decades of court interpretations of NEPA’s mandates, and undercuts the reliance placed on NEPA by the public, decision-makers, and project proponents,” the Environmental Defense Fund, the Wilderness Society, Environment America, and other groups said.

The lawsuits are the first of several expected to challenge the Trump administration’s NEPA regulations. Other environmental groups and states are expected to file separate cases in other district courts.

The Southeast coalition also includes the Virginia Wilderness Committee, Upstate Forever, the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, North Carolina Wildlife Federation, National Trust for Historic Preservation, MountainTrue, Haw River Assembly, Highlanders for Responsible Development, Defenders of Wildlife, Cowpasture River Preservation Association, Clinch Coalition, Clean Air Carolina, Cape Fear River Watch, Alliance for the Shenandoah Valley, and Alabama Rivers Alliance.

The other challengers in the California case are Alaska Community Action on Toxics, the American Alpine Club, California Wilderness Coalition, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Environmental Health, Center for Food Safety, Environmental Protection Information Center, Food and Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, National Parks Conservation Association, National Wildlife Federation, Ocean Conservancy, Rio Grande International Study Center, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, We Act for Environmental Justice, Western Watersheds Project, and Winter Wildlands Alliance.

Cause of Action: Administrative Procedure Act

Relief: Declaratory relief; vacate and set aside the regulations.

Response: CEQ said it doesn’t comment on litigation.

Attorneys: The Southern Environmental Law Center represents the first coalition. Earthjustice and the Western Environmental Law Center represent the second coalition. The Justice Department represents CEQ.

The cases are Wild Virginia v. Council on Envtl. Quality, W.D. Va., No. 3:20-cv-00045, 7/29/20 and Alaska Community Action on Toxics v. Council on Envtl. Quality, N.D. Cal., No. 3:20-cv-05199, 7/29/20.

—with assistance from Stephen Lee.

(Adds information about Earthjustice lawsuit throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen M. Gilmer in Washington at egilmer@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory Henderson at ghenderson@bloombergindustry.com; Rebecca Baker at rbaker@bloombergindustry.com

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