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Ferguson joins California AG in suit against Trump administration over environmental law

UPDATED: Fri., Aug. 28, 2020

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson looks on during a news conference on Dec. 17 in Seattle. He has joined a suit against the Trump administration over changes to environmental reviews of federal projects.  (Elaine Thompson / AP)
Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson looks on during a news conference on Dec. 17 in Seattle. He has joined a suit against the Trump administration over changes to environmental reviews of federal projects. (Elaine Thompson / AP)

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson has joined California’s attorney general in filing a federal lawsuit accusing the Trump administration of illegally relaxing environmental reviews of federal projects.

Ferguson joins California Attorney General Xavier Becerra in leading 25 other states, cities and territories in litigation against the administration, which announced July 15 that it was changing the rules in implementation of National Environmental Policy Act. The lawsuit was filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The Trump administration’s changes would reduce the environmental scrutiny needed before major federal decisions, such as restricting the scope of environmental reviews and limiting the amount of public participation in federal decisions, according to a news release from Ferguson’s office.

“It’s unfortunate we have to go to court to stop it, but stop it we will,” Ferguson said in a Friday news conference.

NEPA was introduced in the Senate in 1968 by the late Washington Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson. Former President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1970. The law mandates a detailed environmental review of major construction projects and some federal activities, requiring the government to look at environmental effects before completing a major project such as building power plants, roads or pipelines.

The Trump administration’s July announcement called the old regulations “complex and unnecessarily difficult to understand and navigate.” The new regulations would promote more efficient and timely environmental reviews, the announcement read.

NEPA requires something basic, but important from the federal government, Ferguson said. It requires them to think about the environmental effects of their actions, which helps protect vulnerable communities.

NEPA might not be a household name, Ferguson said, but it has affected most decisions the federal government makes.

“To gut that law would truly have consequences,” Ferguson said.

The lawsuit lists the Council on Environmental Quality, the agency that oversees NEPA regulations, as the defendant and claims the administration’s changes are unlawful because they conflict with NEPA’s original language, which says its purpose is to provide environmental protection and encourage public participation.

The lawsuit also claims the council lacks the proper authority to excuse federal agencies from environmental reviews and failed to conduct an environmental review of the effects of the NEPA changes.

Becerra said the lawsuit is “critical” to protect all communities, especially vulnerable communities that are often hurt the most by environmental changes.

This lawsuit marks the 100th that California has filed against the Trump administration.

Ferguson has filed 76 lawsuits against the Trump administration.

Becerra called the Trump administration “impatient” and “sloppy.”

“We play by the rules,” he said. “We expect you to play by the rules.”


Laurel Demkovich's reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

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