Proposed Changes Would Weaken the U.S.’s ‘Most Influential Environmental Legislation,’ Expert Says

President Trump has called for changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that would limit or end environmental review requirements for major federal projects, such as bridges, highways, pipelines and power plants. Duke experts are available for comment.

Michelle Nowlin


“The National Environmental Policy Act, which requires a review of potentially significant environmental impacts from major federal projects, was enacted 50 years ago, and has been the most influential piece of environmental legislation adopted in the U.S.,” says Michelle Nowlin, a clinical professor at Duke Law School. “It has also served as a model for environmental review around the world, and nearly every state in the U.S. has adopted its own version to apply to state-level projects.”  

“I consider it to be the most democratic statute, explicitly designed to facilitate informed public involvement, government transparency and accountability, and informed decision-making.”  

“While many agree that NEPA regulations are due for a tune-up, several of the proposed changes are dramatic and contrary to the statute’s intent and ideals of democratic engagement. For example, they allow private companies with a financial interest in the outcome to prepare their own analysis. They would also dramatically curtail public participation in the review process.”

Bio: Michelle Nowlin is clinical professor of law at Duke Law School and co-director of the Duke Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. An expert in environmental law, Nowlin has litigated cases involving NEPA and has written and taught on the topic.

For additional comment, contact Michelle Nowlin at:

Media Contact:
Andrew Park
(919) 613-7034;


Brian Murray

"NEPA review is not the ideal mechanism to handle the climate change problem," says professor Brian Murray, director of the Duke University Energy Initiative. "A better way would be to have meaningful comprehensive greenhouse gas policy, such as a price on carbon emissions, covering major sources across the entire economy."

"But we don’t have that now and don’t appear to be headed there anytime soon, so NEPA review is an alternative means to check emissions. Taking that away will diminish the arsenal of tools the U.S. has to reduce emissions and will make climate- change mitigation that much harder."


Brian Murray is director of the Duke University Energy Initiative and a research professor at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. He can discuss energy policy economics, including carbon taxes and cap-and-trade programs, and their relationship to climate change risk.

For additional comment, contact Brian Murray at:

Media Contact:
Tim Lucas
(919) 613-8084;