Virtually all Americans oppose any infrastructure plan that sacrifices the environment

Virtually all Americans oppose any infrastructure plan that sacrifices the environment
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President TrumpDonald John TrumpDems make history, and other takeaways from Tuesday's primaries Pawlenty loses comeback bid in Minnesota Establishment-backed Vukmir wins Wisconsin GOP Senate primary MORE will soon make a major announcement of his plans to rebuild America’s infrastructure. As he considers his proposal, he should know that Americans oppose any infrastructure plan that would sacrifice the environment and health to build bridges and roads.

In polling conducted at the end of 2017, Hart Research and Associates, on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for American Progress, found that nearly all Americans definitively reject the idea that improving the nation’s infrastructure should come at the expense of protections for air, water, wildlife and natural places.

Among those surveyed, 94 percent — including 92 percent of voters that voted for President Trump — understand that the country can build and modernize infrastructure while keeping environmental protections in place.

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Strong environmental protections produce better infrastructure that not only safeguards the environment, but also protects communities and saves taxpayer dollars — and Americans agree. Voters want infrastructure projects to maintain strong environmental and public health, save taxpayers money and support their communities.

 

What’s more, Americans reject Trump’s false premise that current environmental protections delay infrastructure projects. Americans are right. The Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are bedrock laws that protect wildlife and the environment. And numerous studies show that most of the delays that occur at the state and local level are due to funding challenges or changes to the project proposal, not compliance with environmental laws. 

In 2015, Defenders of Wildlife busted this myth about ESA delays, finding that no development project between January 2008 and April 2015 was stopped or changed significantly because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) determined that a project would threaten a species or damage its habitat. What’s more, we found that it only takes FWS on average 13 days for an informal consultation and 62 days for a formal one. The ESA does its job and protects the wildlife and habitat that make America great — for nearly 40 years, the ESA has helped prevent the extinction of our nation's wildlife treasures, including beloved American icons such as the bald eagle, the Florida manatee and the California condor.

The NEPA process is about ensuring the government makes informed decisions and that communities have a say in projects that could impact their lives and livelihoods and their values like wildlife and public lands for generations.

This “look before you leap” law requires agencies to inform the public of the significant impacts a project will have on their environment. It provides the public an opportunity to weigh in on the project and requires decision-makers to assess reasonable alternatives that could mitigate or eliminate harmful impacts.

Sometimes NEPA is the only process that gives Americans a voice in the projects that are in their own backyards. It also provides transparency and accountability to taxpayers. A more informed public and process equals better outcomes for everyone.

What happens when NEPA is bypassed? The Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst marine oil spill in history, is one prime example of the cost of undermining NEPA.

The National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore drilling noted that a 1978 amendment of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act required fast-tracked approvals of exploration plans.  The commission observed that the law “expressly singles out the Gulf of Mexico for less rigorous environmental oversight under NEPA.”

In 1981, the Interior Department went further and allowed the plans in the central and western Gulf of Mexico to be “categorically excluded” from NEPA review. As a result, the Commission concluded, that the Minerals Management Service performed “no meaningful NEPA review” associated with its permitting for drilling of BP’s exploratory Macondo well.”

On April 20, 2010, the blowout from Deepwater Horizon killed 11 people, spilled more than 210 million gallons of oil and through Nov. 1, 2010, wildlife responders had collected 8,183 birds, 1,144 sea turtles, and 109 marine mammals affected by the spill — alive or dead, visibly oiled or not. It also contaminated communities, destroyed businesses and cost billions of dollars in cleanup costs.

Let’s hope that President Trump and his administration respect the opinions of the American public. Our wild lands, waters, wildlife and communities are not Trump’s to pave over. Our poll makes it clear that Americans will reject any plan that sacrifices environmental health, and they don’t buy the scam that we must undermine safeguards to achieve faster development at the expense of the environment, our communities and wildlife.

*This piece has been updated at the request of the author.

Jamie Rappaport Clark is the president and CEO of Defenders of Wildlife. She was previously the director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from 1997-2001.