NPCA submitted the following position to the House Committee on Natural Resources ahead of a hearing scheduled for April 25, 2018.
NPCA supports the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), an essential law guiding responsible development and public engagement in our nation’s project planning. The National Park System is no stranger to the need for infrastructure repairs and speedy project permitting and approval. Both parties recognize that there isn’t a single community in the country that isn’t struggling with decaying roads, bridges, water systems, schools and more. National parks are a microcosm of this larger national need. Unfortunately, NEPA has been caught undeservingly in the crossfire in the debate on infrastructure development. Many proposals in Congress and from the administration support project development at the expense of project analysis and public involvement, while undermining bedrock environmental laws such as the NEPA, Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act, under the mistaken belief that they are the source of project delays. In reality, infrastructure needs, both current and future, are resources starved, not burdened by environmental review.
Furthermore, NEPA ensures communities are informed about significant health and environmental impacts from any proposed federal development project, requires that federal agencies measure the environmental impacts of any proposed actions, and allows the public to comment on these plans. Successful uses of NEPA have resulted in sound restoration and mitigation of potential impacts to our national parks, public lands and the plants and animals that call these places home.
At noted above, in an attempt to modify the law, the 115th Congress has introduced over 60 pieces of legislation that would minimize the involvement of stakeholders, federal agencies and the public at the expense of nature, wildlife and community health. We’re concerned that many of these efforts are solutions in search of a problem with NEPA. Some of these bills would accelerate development and waive NEPA via legislative categorical exclusions and reduce government accountability to the public through limiting judicial review, all in the name of expediency—even though the facts demonstrate that permitting isn’t the primary hurdle to project execution.
We agree that there may be ways to modernize NEPA, but we encourage you to only do so to foster better public input, improve transparency and ensure taxpayer dollars are spent on robust decisions that protect our environment, public lands and public health.
Finally, we understand that the committee may have concerns with issues at Point Reyes National Seashore, as raised by Dr. Laura Alice Watt in her testimony submitted to the committee. NPCA, along with other conservation organizations, is proud to be working directly with ranchers within the Seashore to promote exchanges amongst diverse stakeholders and help produce a plan through the NEPA process that builds resiliency for environmentally sustainable ranching, recreation, wildlife and other resources in this park that attracts more than 2 million visitors each year. Regarding the aforementioned testimony submitted by Dr. Watt, who is part of a secretive organization called “Resilient Agriculture Group,” we are concerned it lacks credibility on this topic and contains factual inaccuracies. Importantly, Dr. Watt is not a rancher at the Seashore and does not speak for or represent the ranchers. In fact, ranchers within the Seashore have concerns that the efforts of Dr. Watt and Resilient Ag Group are unproductive and do not match the reality on the ground (see Letters to the Editor in the Point Reyes Light, April 5 and 12, 2018).
These letters not only undermine Dr. Watt’s arguments, they demonstrate that ranchers leasing land from the Seashore support NEPA and the National Park Service. Noteworthy are their comments, such as, “We are proud to be a part of this [NEPA] process and trust our park service to understand not only the cultural and historical significance of ranching in the park, but also how our activities contribute ecological management services and enhanced ecosystems for our varied wildlife”; and “We understand the value and importance of this planning process, and have positive and mutually respectful relations with National Park Service staff. We expect to work constructively with N.P.S. throughout the current planning process and beyond…The process can build mutual trust and consensus with different stakeholders and increase public confidence in the management of the seashore.”
We will continue to work with local communities on these issues and ensure that both ranching families in the Seashore and NPS are able to support their respective missions. Please let us know if you have questions about the work at the Seashore.
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Former Deputy Vice President, Government Affairs