Attorney General Phil Weiser urges White House to withdraw executive order, maintain environmental protections during review of infrastructure projects
June 29, 2020 (DENVER, Colo.)—Attorney General Phil Weiser today joined a coalition of 16 state attorneys general in urging the administration to withdraw an Executive Order that instructs federal agencies to avoid full compliance with environmental laws when approving infrastructure projects. Executive Order 13927: Accelerating the Nation’s Economic Recovery From the COVID-19 Emergency by Expediting Infrastructure Investments and Other Activities was signed on June 4.
The letter argues these emergency regulations cannot be invoked based on current circumstances, and also emphasizes that large infrastructure projects with environmental effects are often found in low income and minority communities, which are already bearing a disproportionate burden from the COVID-19 crisis.
“Ignoring key environmental review mechanisms to rush projects is reckless and dangerous,” Weiser said. “Environmental protection laws are in place to defend both people and wildlife, and this Executive Order threatens to endanger Colorado residents and heighten existing public health disparities.”
The Order instructs federal agencies to use emergency regulations to speed the environmental review of infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and other important environmental laws in order to “facilitate the Nation’s economic recovery.”
The coalition’s letter argues that those emergency regulations cannot be invoked to bypass environmental review based on a general downturn in the nationwide economy. Rather, they are narrowly tailored to allow the federal government to promptly respond to emergencies that pose an imminent threat to public health and existing property. In the past they have been used to respond to landslides, hurricanes, and oil spills—physical emergencies that threaten human health and real property. As such, the Executive Order should be withdrawn.
If the administration refuses to withdraw the Order, the letter urges, at a minimum, that all federal agencies be required to publish how they are selecting projects for emergency treatment, publish which projects receive that treatment, and allow for public comment on these projects.
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