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Home    |   Print Edition   |   A Narrative Understanding of the National Environmental Policy Act

A Narrative Understanding of the National Environmental Policy Act

Apr 01, 2020

Jarrod Ingles

Volume 46 (2019) - Issue 2

The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to engage in a public participation process when making decisions that affect the environment. The technical complexity of the NEPA public participation process blocks the public from participating in an agency’s decision-making process, and agencies often struggle to take public comments seriously while creating Environmental Impact Statements. Furthermore, National Environmental Policy Act lawsuits filed against agencies usually revolve around complex technical or scientific issues that are divorced from the concerns and values articulated by stories that the public tells about its relationship to the natural world. The result of this disconnect between public comments and agency considerations means that the Environmental Impact Statement process often addresses public comments grounded in technical arguments while failing to engage comments founded on other values. Looking at WildEarth Guardians v. the Bureau of Land Management and the public comments filed with the Bureau of Land Management related to that case, I argue that a law and literature analysis helps explain why agencies struggle to fully engage the public while implementing the National Environmental Policy Act. A core problem with the law’s current public participation process is that it privileges environmental narratives of efficient economic and scientific management over all other environmental narratives. However, many values cannot be expressed through those narratives because not all values are economic or scientific. And those values are best communicated using different environmental narratives. This literary framework reveals some significant challenges that will be difficult to overcome in seeking to improve the National Environmental Policy Act public participation process.