Cantwell, Washington State, Oregon Lawmakers Press Trump Administration to Extend Columbia River System Environmental Impact Statement Comment Period as Nation Works to Address Coronavirus Pandemic
In a new letter, a group of Washington state and Oregon lawmakers urged the Council on Environmental Quality to extend the initial 45-day comment period for the draft environmental impact statement regarding the Columbia River System
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate health committee, Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), as well as U.S. Representatives Adam Smith (D, WA-09), Rick Larsen (D, WA-02), Derek Kilmer (D, WA-06), Suzanne Bonamici (D, OR-01), Earl Blumenauer (D, OR-03), Suzan K. DelBene (D, WA-01), Pramila Jayapal (D, WA-07), Kim Schrier, M.D. (D, WA-08), and Denny Heck (D, WA-10), sent a letter to Council on Environmental Quality Chair Mary Neumayr requesting an extension of the 45 day public comment period currently underway for the Columbia River System draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In observance of public health guidance, and in light of the social disruption caused by the current COVID-19 pandemic and the federal, state, and local government attention it requires, the lawmakers pressed to extend the deadline for public comment until at least 30 days after the federal public health emergency is over.
“Given the unique nature of this crisis, it is paramount that all of our national resources and energies be focused on effecting a comprehensive response,” the lawmakers wrote. “The current crisis cannot plausibly provide for an environment conducive to robust public comment. Public feedback should be solicited in an accessible manner and, crucially, in-person, so that the citizens who stand to be affected most directly can make their voices heard to the officials charged with making these decisions.”
The lawmakers continued: “Accordingly, we request the extension of this comment period until no sooner than 30 days after the conclusion of the public health emergency as declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.”
The Columbia River System draft EIS was originally released on February 28, 2020 with a 45 day public comment period. Public feedback is a crucial aspect of the federal rulemaking process, and considering the profound impact that the Columbia River System has on the region and its many diverse inhabitants, it is vital the public has a chance to voice their thoughts and opinions before any action is decided upon—options which are currently virtually impossible due to efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Read full letter below or HERE.
March 30, 2020
Dear Madam Chair:
We write to request an extension of the 45-day public comment period currently underway for the Federal Register notice entitled EIS No. 20200052, Draft, BR, BPA, USACE, OR, Columbia River System Operations. Due to the ongoing 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic—and the specific toll that it is taking on the Pacific Northwest—it is our concern that this important matter cannot receive the thoughtful consideration that it requires under these circumstances.
Given the unique nature of this crisis, it is paramount that all of our national resources and energies be focused on effecting a comprehensive response. The current crisis cannot plausibly provide for an environment conducive to robust public comment. Public feedback should be solicited in an accessible manner and, crucially, in-person, so that the citizens who stand to be affected most directly can make their voices heard to the officials charged with making these decisions. Accordingly, we request the extension of this comment period until no sooner than 30 days after the conclusion of the public health emergency as declared by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
The Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act are clear: agencies must incorporate the feedback from public comments into final rules, including in instances when the rules stand to have significant and long-term environmental impacts. The Columbia River System is a vital resource to the region, and a diverse array of stakeholders are counting on this specific environmental impact statement to bring a degree of finality and certainty to these issues. This can only be accomplished through a transparent public comment process that includes public meetings. This is an issue not of ideology, but one of public safety and full faith in institutions to be responsive to the most pressing matters.
We stand ready to work with the Administration to expeditiously extend the comment period or have the public comment period reopened once this national crisis has been addressed. In this moment, our collective energies are best served working to hasten that moment.
Thank you for your swift consideration of this pressing matter.
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