WASHINGTON, DC—Resources for the Future (RFF) today released a new installment of Resources Radio: “Going Deeper on NEPA, with J.B. Ruhl.”
In this episode, host Daniel Raimi talks with J.B. Ruhl, a professor at Vanderbilt University Law School who specializes in environmental, natural resources, and property law. Ruhl provides an overview of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the landmark law that permits lawsuits against federal agencies for any actions that are perceived to affect the quality of the environment. Drawing from his years practicing environmental law, Ruhl explains how NEPA lawsuits are especially complex—involving statutes, court opinions, and recent regulatory changes that are often at odds. He also discusses the implications of a proposed rule change by the Trump administration that could limit the types of litigation that can be pursued under NEPA.
Notable quotes from the podcast:
- How NEPA lawsuits work: “If an agency fails to carry out NEPA faithfully or accurately, then opponents, or people who object … can bring an action in federal court, and that has led to an extensive body of case law interpreting NEPA.” (4:35)
- New restrictions on “cumulative impact” litigation: “Probably the most concerning aspect of [the Trump administration's proposal] as far as, say, environmental interests go, would be the de-emphasis of cumulative impacts … If we’re authorizing the removal of a small amount of a species habitat on a project, that might not amount to very much, but if there are a thousand such projects, that might amount to a cumulative impact.” (17:44)
- Legal ambiguities at the heart of NEPA: “So when people ask, “What does NEPA require?”, there’s never an easy answer, in the sense that it’s always an amalgam of the statute, the regulations, and court opinions, and we haven’t had regulatory changes in quite a while … So, we’re at a juncture where if these [proposed] rules are finalized, we will have to reevaluate what exactly case law requires and doesn’t require, and whether or not those regulations can actually go forward.” (24:59)
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