Following Discussions at COP26, Grijalva Calls for Increased Federal Funding for Research on Public Health Impacts of Pollution

Washington, D.C. – Following his return from the recently concluded United Nations climate conference in Scotland, Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today called for increased funding and administrative support for human health risk analyses and environmental impact assessments across federal agencies. Analysts at the Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, U.S. Forest Service and other federal departments and agencies, he said, need more money, staffing and political support to adequately determine the human and environmental risks of polluter proposals and government policies, and Congress and federal managers should respond accordingly. 

Increased funding and support for scientific analysis, Grijalva said, is especially timely as the Biden administration prepares a major update to its implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), expected next year. His conversations in Scotland, he said, dramatically underscored the need to fully analyze the human and environmental consequences of pollution and prevent regulatory capture by polluting industries.

“If polluters are confident they can withstand real scientific scrutiny, they should be lobbying to double our environmental agencies’ budgets,” Grijalva said. “The truth is that the polluter business model relies on politically pressuring understaffed agencies to speed their projects along, and that’s not the way we should be doing business any longer. When Congress gives federal agencies the tools and staffing they really need, we can end the cycle of rubber-stamping fossil fuel extraction and poisoning minority neighborhoods and have full faith in the regulatory decisions that decide life and death for millions of people across this country.”

Grijalva noted that polluting industries often argue in bad faith that NEPA reviews of major actions and projects take too long and that environmental groups file NEPA lawsuits too frequently, an argument that independent experts have thoroughly rebutted. As John C. Ruple and Kayla Race wrote in 2019 for the SJ Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah, “Only a small fraction of NEPA decisions result in litigation—approximately one in 450 decisions are litigated. [. . .] [O]ur analysis of the CEQ’s NEPA completion time data, NEPA litigation data, and U.S. Attorneys’ Office data on all federal civil litigation demonstrates that the attacks against NEPA and NEPA litigation focus on a nonexistent problem.”

Grijalva pointed out that polluters themselves should support increased staffing for such analysis in the name of speeding project approval and producing more scientifically reliable results. More staffing would lead directly to better scientific analysis and make it easier for federal agencies to conduct the kind of robust analysis that avoids lawsuits, Grijalva said. Ruple and Race found that agencies that spend less time on NEPA analysis are sued at a higher rate than their “more contemplative” counterparts.

Increased funding for human health risk analysis is also in line with President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda and has been included in the Build Back Better Act. Under Chair Grijalva, the House Natural Resources Committee’s title of the Act would provide significant funding increases for environmental reviews and public engagement across federal departments and agencies, including at the United States Geological Survey, the Council on Environmental Quality, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Department of the Interior.

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