Garfield County lauds NEPA changes
Garfield County commissioners see substantial proposed changes to the federal environmental review process as a positive development.
The commissioners signed on to a joint letter Monday with three other counties in the western U.S. commending the proposed rules to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The rule changes will “result in better decisions for the advancement of man as well as prudent stewardship of the environment,” the letter, signed with the counties of Chaves, New Mexico; Custer, Idaho; and Modoc, California.
Environmental groups have roundly condemned the rule changes from the Council on Environmental Quality, saying it would weaken federal protections of critical landscapes.
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The mayors of Glenwood Springs and Carbondale, along with Pitkin County and Aspen, have also expressed concerns about the rule changes.
One section of the proposed changes particularly worries Glenwood Springs.
The draft rules would allow agencies to ignore a proposed project’s significant impacts if those effects are “remote in time, geographically remote, or the result of a lengthy causal chain.”
That could remove considerations of human-caused climate change from the NEPA process.
But the city’s letter also notes that they are worried five test wells Rocky Mountain Industrials wishes to drill to support its proposed limestone quarry expansion could damage the hot springs, for which Glenwood Springs is famous and which drive substantial tourism.
Those effects could easily be considered remote in time, or the product of a lengthy causal change.
‘Not trying to dismantle anything’
Following a White House Executive Order from 2017, the Council of Environmental Quality released the draft rules Jan. 10, and opened a 60-day comment period that ended Tuesday.
NEPA requires various levels of environmental review for numerous projects, including those on federal land, from harvesting lumber to oil extraction. But NEPA also requires review of virtually all government projects, and even those where a federal agency is only a partner, like highways, dams, military bases, and prisons.
The problem with the current NEPA process, according to Garfield County commissioners, is it has been used as a way to tool to stall projects in the name of environmental protection, without considering a project’s benefit to human welfare.
“The [Council on Environmental Quality] regulations adopted 1978 unfairly tilt the analysis in favor of the impacts of the natural environment at the expense of the responsible and productive use of resources for the betterment of society,” the county’s letter states.
Environmental review should balance the impacts to untouched lands as well as promote responsible human uses, the commissioners said.
“Our public lands are there for multiple use, and are not to be used just as wild lands,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said Monday.
The commissioners have at times clashed with NEPA reviews in the past. The letter notes the unnecessary delays and burdens NEPA places on oil and gas extraction, including the BLM’s 2015 BLM decision.
The county also wants the new rules to give local governments a larger role in planning processes.
Local elected officials are “custodians of local information necessary to fully evaluate the effects of the proposed action, including the cultural, social, economic, and historical information needed to perform a robust NEPA review,” the letter states.
“Hopefully, people will see that we’re not trying to totally dismantle anything, what we’re trying to do is make it fair and usable,” board chair John Martin said.
The stated purpose of NEPA is to “foster and promote the general welfare, to create and maintain conditions under which man and nature can exist in productive harmony, and fulfill the social, economic, and other requirements of present and future generations of Americans.”
To the commissioners, the economic and social aspects of the review process were left out of the regulations the Council on Environmental Quality adopted in 1978.
“Hopefully, this gives us a chance to right the ship,” Jankovsky said.
“And hopefully the administration will take into consideration the fact that we are representing counties in the western United States,” he added.
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