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E-M:/ urgent sign on letter to stop attack on nepa in u.s. house

Enviro-Mich message from Dave Dempsey <davemec@voyager.net>

The U.S. House of Representatives Public Works and Infrastructure
Committee will soon consider its version of amendments to ISTEA, the
major national transportation funding law.  Unlike the Senate version,
the current House version contains major attacks on the National
Environmental Policy Act, including a provision that would allow
delegation of environmental review to states in some instances.  Imagine
what that would do for US-23. Any groups that wish to sign on to this
letter should let MEC know by Thursday, March 26, at noon.  Thank you.

We, the undersigned, urge you to support changes to the "Environmental
Streamlining" (Sec. 502) and "Major Investment Study Integration" (Sec.
503) sections of the Building Efficient Surface Transportation and
Equity Act (BESTEA) being forwarded by the National Coalition to Defend
NEPA, environmentalists and transportation reform advocates.  We view as
unacceptable language within BESTEA which would:

 require concurrent permitting before an environmental impact statement
is finalized;
 devolve NEPA review authority to the states or create a state-level
NEPA pilot project;
 mandate narrow time frames for environmental agency or public review;
 allow the Secretary of Transportation to determine purpose of need of
highway projects, thereby limiting the alternatives analyzed;
 preclude states and other agencies from raising legitimate issues that
arise after the scoping/planning process.

NEPA has been at the heart of American environmental law since 1970,
when President Nixon signed it.  Since then it has enjoyed broad
bi-partisan support and has, more importantly, been instrumental in
protecting our air, land and water.  NEPA requires agencies proposing
projects to spell out detailed environmental impact statements, prove
the need for the projects, and demonstrate the lack of practicable
alternatives.  It is designed to provide an exposition of project
impacts, alternatives and choices, through the draft EIS and final EIS
process, after which environmental review agencies determine how and
whether to issue permits allowing the project to proceed to
construction.  These permit decisions, whether federal, state or local,
often become adversarial because the transportation agencies routinely
ignore investment in more environmentally sensitive choices, transit, or
demand reduction strategies.  The environmental impact statement process
exposes these agency errors, and project sponsors are subjected to
appropriate scrutiny.  Agency failures to implement NEPA are, more often
than not, responsible for project delays, as environmental impact
statements are found wanting by the public, local elected officials, the
press and the courts.  

The claim that the environmental streamlining provisions in the Building
Efficient Surface Transportation and Equity Act (BESTEA) would not
affect or change "substantive NEPA law," is inaccurate.  First, NEPA is
a procedural law, not a substantive law.  It requires agencies proposing
projects to incorporate environmental values in their project decisions,
and also sets up the environmental impact statement information
process.  Changing the administration of NEPA by requiring federal (and
even state and local) environmental agencies to assess the project's
permit needs before a draft or final environmental impact statement is
produced is a substantial change in NEPA procedures. The proposed
streamlining language will serve to "lock in" the environmental review
agencies to a particular project before proper consideration is given to
transit and other alternatives.   Advance "buy-in" from environmental
agencies will speed delivery of bad projects and make a mockery of
public participation on projects that profoundly shape our communities
and public health.

	NEPA plays an important role in the effort to reform our nation's
transportation system, as well as protection of its environment.
National environmental groups and regional alliances of environmental,
transit advocacy and land conservation groups have, over the last few
years, focused their attention on traffic- and sprawl-inducing highway
projects.  Unfortunately, transportation agencies have not been very
successful incorporating environmental values in planning and investment
choices, and continue to view project construction as paramount, with
environmental values relegated to the role of "mitigation."  

We call on Congress to remove the provisions in BESTEA which undermine
NEPA.  Democracy is an inherently time-consuming process, and projects
that are worthy of construction should have sponsors that are proud to
build local and state consensus over issues such as shape, design, mode
or alternatives.  It would be unfortunate if the legacy of the 105th
Congress was that it gutted American environmental law in favor of the
special interest highway lobby. 

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