Letter Opposing Rice Amendment to H.R. 268 to Waive Environmental Regulations for Disaster Recovery Funding

January 15, 2019

House of Representatives
Re: Oppose Rice Amendment

Dear Representative:

On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we urge you to oppose the Rice Amendment to H.R. 268, the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2019.

This Amendment breaks with a long-standing tradition of disaster funding and proposes to allow the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, in managing the $1.16 billion of disaster funding appropriated by Congress, to waive any provision of any environmental statute or regulation. This unnecessary grant of authority to the HUD Secretary means that important environmental aspects of the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, or other environmental protection laws could go unheeded.

We understand fully the importance of rebuilding quickly after a natural disaster, but we also believe that recovery and rebuilding projects must be undertaken in a manner that protects human health, the environment, and ultimately makes the new infrastructure more resilient to future disasters. Environmental reviews of potentially large construction projects can help to assure, not only that stakeholders within disaster-stricken communities are given a say in how rebuilding should occur, but also that recovery projects protect people and the environment and better prepare the locality for future potential disasters.

In our view, this amendment is also completely unnecessary, since many of the laws it seems to target already provide for exemptions or expedited processes for post-disaster cases. For example, there are already considerable flexibilities and authorities from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), and the Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to allow FEMA to provide immediate relief without conducting an in-depth analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).1 CEQ regulations also provide that “[w]here emergency circumstances make it necessary to take an action with significant environmental impact” without conducting thorough NEPA analysis, “the Federal agency taking the action shall consult with [CEQ] about alternative arrangements.”2

Environmental laws have never stood in the way of safe, sensible, and cost-effective disaster recovery. Accordingly, we urge you to oppose the Rice Amendment.

Respectfully,

Earthjustice

Hispanic Federation

The Pew Charitable Trusts

Environmental Defense Fund

Natural Resources Defense Council

Western Watersheds Project

Sierra Club

American Rivers

San Juan Citizens Alliance

Endangered Species Coalition

Alaska Wilderness League

Defenders of Wildlife

WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Greenpeace

National Low Income Housing Coalition

Puerto Rican Planning Society

National Parks Conservation Association Americas for Conservation

International Fund for Animal Welfare Clean Water Action

Center for Biological Diversity

Lower 9th Ward Homeownership Association

Texas Appleseed

Sierra Club

Refugees International

Fair Share Housing Center of New Jersey

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