The White House Council on Environmental Quality’s addition of a third public speaking session for its sweeping regulatory rewrite has done little to mollify environmentalists.
The council’s Jan. 9 proposed changes would speed up reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act for pipelines, mines, highways, and other infrastructure projects.
The agency said Tuesday it was adding an evening session to the already-scheduled Feb. 11 hearing in Denver “due to public interest.” Another meeting is slated for Feb. 25 in Washington, D.C.
But environmentalists said even three public comment sessions isn’t enough for regulatory changes as broad as the ones being proposed.
“It’s wildly inadequate,” said Stephen Schima, senior legislative counsel at Earthjustice. “There’s more process under NEPA for a road expansion in Denver than CEQ is providing for an overhaul of how 80-plus agencies consider public input, environmental impacts, and climate change.”
Schima also said that, by limiting the sessions to Denver and Washington, CEQ is cutting out voices from across the country—an unacceptable decision, in his view, for a rule that would affect virtually every community in the nation.
“A rule of this magnitude should provide the public more than just two opportunities to voice their concerns, and significantly more than 60 days,” added Sally Hardin, deputy director of the Center for American Progress and a CEQ staffer during the Obama administration.
Christy Goldfuss, senior vice president of energy and environment policy at the Center for American Progress and CEQ director under President Barack Obama, said the Trump administration is “trying to rush the draft through without sufficient time for public comment on the rule.”
Adding to the complaints is a strong demand from speakers to be heard. Tickets for the morning session in Denver sold out within two minutes, and for the evening session within one minute, according to screenshots of failed reservation attempts reviewed by Bloomberg Environment.
‘Extensive Public Outreach’
In response, a CEQ spokesman said the agency “has engaged in extensive public outreach,” including an advance notice or proposed rulemaking in 2018 that garnered more than 12,500 comments.
The spokesman also said that, for the Denver hearing, “several groups reserved a large number of available seats.”
Law professors said public comment sessions are widely thought of as a good practice.
“For really significant policy changes that affect a wide number of constituents in our country, it’s good practice to reach out as widely as you can and hear from as many people as you can,” said Kevin Stack, an administrative law professor at Vanderbilt University Law School.
Public listening sessions also give agencies the chance to ask follow-up questions “and perhaps engage a wider or somewhat different collection of perspectives,” said Kristin Hickman, an administrative law professor at the University of Minnesota Law School.
The public has until March 10 to submit written comments on the CEQ proposal.