Attorney General Ellison sues Trump Administration for rule curtailing environmental review of federal actions

Rule would limit Minnesotans’ participation, hurt vulnerable communities’ pursuit of environmental justice

August 29, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that he has joined a coalition of 22 states, territories, and local governments in filing a lawsuit that challenges the Trump Administration’s unlawful final rule curtailing environmental review of federal actions under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Until now, NEPA has required 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, thereby robbing vulnerable communities of the opportunity to make their voices heard on actions that are likely to have adverse impacts on their environment and health and their pursuit of environmental justice. 

In the lawsuit, 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. 

“My job is to protect Minnesotans, especially the most vulnerable, when the federal government won’t,” Attorney General Ellison said. “Once again, the Trump Administration is deliberately making it harder for Minnesotans to live with dignity and respect, and to make their voices heard on environmental decisions that concern their health and wellbeing. Once again, they’re taking aim at vulnerable communities who have suffered the most from environmental injustice. And we allege that once again, they’ve broken the law in doing so. I’ve joined a broad coalition to hold them accountable in court.” 

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.  

Millions of Minnesotans, as well as Minnesota state agencies, have participated in NEPA review processes for major infrastructure projects in Minnesota, such as PolyMet’s NorthMet mine and Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 replacement project. Public participation in projects that require federal permits is critical to ensure that Minnesotans have a voice in federal decisions. 

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: 

Attorney General Ellison joins the California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who led the coalition, and the attorneys general of Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, the District of Columbia, and Guam, as well as the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, the City of New York, and Harris County, Texas in filing the lawsuit. 

A copy of the lawsuit is available on the website of California Attorney General Becerra. 


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