Scrapping environmental protections has devastating, lasting repercussions


Matt York / AP

In this Sept. 10, 2019, file photo government contractors erect a section of Pentagon-funded border wall along the Colorado River, in Yuma, Ariz.

In some cases, it will take years for the devastating effects of President Donald Trump’s regulatory rollbacks to play out.

Not so his assault on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which he triggered last week.

For an example of how much damage would be caused by Trump’s proposed gutting of NEPA, all Nevadans have to do is look south to Arizona.

There, the Trump administration already waived NEPA and several other regulations to build a section of the president’s border wall, citing national security concerns.

The waivers have allowed the government to begin draining precious supplies of groundwater to build concrete bases for the wall and for dust control. With the project estimated to consume 50 million gallons of water across the 100 miles of new wall scheduled for construction, environmentalists say the effects will be devastating.

It’s an environmental crisis happening in real time, as work on the wall is progressing rapidly in the Tucson area. With spring flow and groundwater supplies already dwindling, dozens of endangered and threatened species near the Arizona-Mexico border could be wiped out. These include fish, amphibians, birds and other mammals that live in springs and marshland areas.

“It’s painful to see how much flora and fauna has already been destroyed in our beautiful desert,” the city’s newly elected mayor, Regina Romero, told The Guardian.

Worse yet, Romero and others say, there were other less destructive options that would have boosted security without tapping into the groundwater and damaging the desert. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., says that’s where NEPA would have come in.

“The wall could not be built without the waiver,” he told The Guardian. “NEPA requires the government to choose the least invasive, best option for taxpayers … surveillance cameras could be installed every hundred meters at a fraction of the economic and environmental cost. This wall is an unjustifiable project.”

Grijalva also noted that Native American sacred sites would be desecrated by the wall.

Under Trump’s plans, provisions of the 50-year-old NEPA would be relaxed or eliminated to speed up new pipelines, mines and hundreds of other projects throughout the country.

If finalized, the changes would allow federal agencies to ramrod projects without considering the cumulative climate or public health impacts, and would give virtually unrestricted authority to federal agencies to determine whether the potential hazards of a project warrant an environmental impact statement.

Experts say the proposed rewrite would also result in communities having less control over projects built in their backyards. Think the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines.

“These proposed rules are rigged in favor of Wall Street executives, fossil fuel companies and other interests who would despoil the West’s heritage in service of profit and power,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. 

Environmental groups are preparing to challenge the change in court, which is to their credit. Here’s hoping they can prevent Trump from dismantling NEPA and, in doing so, further wrecking America’s great outdoors and cultural heritage.

What’s happening in Arizona is tragic. Allowing it to happen across the country is unthinkable.