The People Are Under Attack. So Are the Laws That Protect Them.

Last week, Donald Trump took this country further down the road toward authoritarianism. He called on elected officials across the country to “dominate” and use violence against peaceful protestors. He called thousands of National Guard and members of unidentified militias into our nation’s capital. The National Guard used helicopters to intimidate and forcibly disperse protesters. And the attorney general ordered park police to clear peaceful protesters from Lafayette Square to allow Trump to pose for photos with a bible in front of a church -- which they took as permission to use tear gas, batons, and explosive devices. 

But Trump isn’t just interested in silencing those who demand justice for George Floyd, who told the officer who kneeled on his neck “I can’t breathe” again and again until his death. He’s also determined to silence, i.e. dominate, those who speak out against environmental injustice -- the polluting projects that make it so much harder for Black communities and communities of color to breathe.

On Thursday, Trump issued an executive order waiving environmental reviews for major projects like pipelines and fossil fuel export terminals. He suspended the foundational environmental laws that protect people, animals, and our planet from the impacts of polluting projects. That includes laws like the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) -- the law our allies at NRDC call “democracy in action.” 

Because of NEPA, the government must inform the people who will be forced to live with a project about its potential impacts -- and offer them the chance to challenge its construction. For many communities, that’s the only chance they get to weigh in on the mine or power plant they’ll be forced to live near. 

NEPA is often used by Indigenous communities, communities of color, and allies like the Sierra Club to protect themselves from dangerous projects, like uranium mines and fossil fuel export terminals. Now, the Trump administration wants to deprive this country of one of our best tools to speak up for our communities and keep ourselves safe. He’s depriving people of one of the few methods they have to defend their communities against polluting corporations -- and making it easier for polluters to rush their projects through without adequate community input.

Last Thursday’s order is just one in a long line of environmental rollbacks that make our air and water dirtier. That make us sicker and more likely to die prematurely, including from COVID-19. That hit Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color hardest. That aim to cut the public out of the decisions that affect their life, turning us from citizens into subjects. 

This isn’t even the Trump administration’s first attack on NEPA: In January, Trump’s EPA proposed a major rollback of “the people’s environmental law,” which is expected to be finalized this summer. “He’s attempting to turn the clock back to the good old days, when only a much narrower, whiter, and more moneyed slice of our society had access to the levers of power,” I wrote then. 

These words were more prescient than I could have guessed. Since then, the Trump administration’s attacks on our rights to express ourselves and to breathe free have only intensified. We must resist his power grabs. We must resist the violence being inflicted upon Black people, and all those the Trump administration seeks to dominate into silence -- whether it takes the form of deadly pollutants or rubber bullets and police batons. 

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