Democrat questions WH transparency in rollback of bedrock environmental law

Democrat questions WH transparency in rollback of bedrock environmental law
© Greg Nash

Sen. Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperIs the Biden administration afraid of trade? Congress sends 30-day highway funding patch to Biden after infrastructure stalls Senate to try to pass 30-day highway bill Saturday after GOP objection MORE (D-Del.) on Thursday questioned the White House on its transparency in receiving and publishing industry comments on proposed changes to a bedrock environmental law. 

Environmental groups have accused the administration of allowing industry to use the email address NEPA-Update@ceq.eop.gov as a back channel to send in comments on the administration’s proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

The White House, meanwhile, has denied accusations of a back channel. 

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“It has come to my attention that, in addition to receiving public comments on this rule through www.regulations.gov, the White House accommodated industry requests for the use of an email address, NEPA-Update@ceq.eop.gov, to receive comments on the proposed regulations,” wrote Carper in a Thursday letter to Mary Neumayr, the chairwoman of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). 

“Comments accepted through this email address do not appear to have been publicly available to others during the comment period, and it is my understanding that they remain unavailable today,” added the senator, who is the top Democrat on the chamber’s Environment and Public Works Committee. “This practice appears to violate Section 206(d) of the E-Government Act of 2002, which requires agencies to make dockets and comments submitted on proposed rules available online.”

Carper also said he has heard from “multiple sources” that the White House gave the email address to people, organizations and industry groups to use for their comments. 

“In doing so, the White House created a two track system to receive and process comments — one track for those working closely with the White House and another for the rest of the public,” he wrote.

CEQ spokesman Dan Schneider denied the accusations by Carper and the environmental groups. 

“CEQ did not create any additional email address on its own or at the request of any entity or for any group to submit comments on the proposed rule,” Schneider told The Hill in an email. 

The council also said in a letter to the National Wildlife Federation last month that “while this email address was not listed among the several methods for the public to provide comments, CEQ will consider comments received through this email address during the public comment period ... and include them in the docket on regulations.gov.”

In January, the administration proposed changes to NEPA which allowed more industry involvement in environmental reviews of certain projects and lessened the role of climate change in the review.

Supporters have billed the proposed changes as a modernization that will speed up U.S. infrastructure construction, but opponents have said it would worsen climate change and allow companies to avoid scrutiny. 

 The period in which the public is allowed to weigh in on the proposal closed last month.