Image courtesy of Hays Woods
A trend that began in previous administrations - the gradual erosion of the nation's most fundamental environmental regulations - has gathered pace in the Bush White House, experts say. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970, a piece of legislation known as the Magna Carta of environmental policy, has been under such heavy assault in recent years that advocates fear its continued undermining could lead to a bleak, unsustainable future for the U.S.
A flurry of bills enacted between 2003 and 2007 by the Congress - including the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 and the Energy Policy Act of 2005 - allowed agencies to disregard or loosen NEPA regulations, prompting a wider incidence of harmful practices such as oil extraction and logging. As a result, experts like Bill Schlesinger, president of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, believes we will likely see more pernicious environmental effects in the near future - especially as our dwindling natural resources become even more scarce. "The fact is, the attack on NEPA has come, chronically, from a relatively small group of commodity users—timber companies, highway builders—who simply oppose having the public and environmentalists get in the way of their plans and programs," said Oliver Houck, professor of environmental law at Tulane University.
Bob Smythe, a former administrator with the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), explained the problem thusly:
"NEPA is revolutionary because it opened the door for the public into agencies in real time, and that's why more than 100 countries around the world adopted the process . . . The current Bush Administration has really gone after NEPA in an effort to avoid the inconvenient and time-consuming responsibility for consulting with the public before they do things."
Despite industry claims that NEPA's requirements often prove more burdensome than they're worth, the current Democratic-led Congress has (mercifully) put the brakes on the legislation's gutting; a spokesperson for one representative explained that the Democrats will be making a concerted effort to push back against some of the most odious changes and prevent it from further being undermined.
While these claims do fill us with (a bit) more confidence, it's hard to imagine we'll one day be able to return to the state of environmental legislation as it was originally enacted in 1970. Unless we take measurable steps to significantly curb resource extraction and land use now, even a partial restoration may prove inconsequential in the long run.
Via ::Environmental Science & Technology: Environmental Magna Carta under siege (news website)
See also: ::Bush Administration Up to its Old Shenanigans on Climate Change, ::Whitehouse Lobbied Against Schwarzenegger Environmental Initiative, ::President Bush Ordered to Release Overdue Global-Warming Plan