Posted on November 5, 2018

The President Should Create a New Position on the Council of Environmental Quality Dedicated to Immigration

Julie Axelrod, Center for Immigration Studies, November 2, 2018


NEPA, commonly referred to as the “Magna Carta” of American environmental law, requires all federal agencies to evaluate the environmental impact of all potentially environmentally significant actions before making decisions. ESA, which the Supreme Court called “the most comprehensive legislation for the preservation of endangered species ever enacted by any nation,” directs all federal agencies to take positive action to conserve endangered and threatened species. (See Tennessee Valley Auth. v. Hill, 437 U.S. 153, 180 (1978).) One requirement under ESA is that every agency that takes an action that might threaten a protected species must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service before executing the action that might threaten its habitat.

{snip} However, effective agency implementation has suffered one great blind spot: The mass entrance and long-term settlement of foreign nationals into our country results in environmental impacts, including serious hazards to our nation’s biodiversity, throughout the country because of national population growth, and also at the border itself because of the degradation caused by mass illegal entry. {snip}

Yet population growth and the mass movement and settlement of people constitute one of the most environmentally consequential phenomena of the modern world, and 21st century American population growth is almost entirely driven by immigration. {snip}

{snip} Through NEPA, Congress mandated federal agencies to inject environmental considerations into their decisions at the earliest time possible, when they can still let these considerations influence policy choices. The intention of this mandate is that, if the government is informed, it will be more likely to refrain from making choices that will lead to avoidable environmental harms. Under NEPA as practiced in regard to immigration, it does the opposite.

The architects of NEPA understood that people who live in overpopulated nations inevitably find themselves constrained in their choices and freedoms, and America is no exception. {snip}

If the government applied NEPA to immigration — the primary cause of U.S. population growth — which inexorably creates environmental impacts, it would be no bureaucratic exercise, but would offer the public, at long last, the chance to make informed choices about the nation’s future before population growth via immigration on autopilot takes the choice away from future generations.

Therefore, any update of the environmental laws that fails to rectify the mistake of ignoring the environmental impacts of immigration would be woefully incomplete. For further discussion, see my September 2018 report “Don’t Leave Immigration Out of Our Environmental Laws”.


Under NEPA, agencies conduct a process known as “scoping” in order to determine the extent of the issues that must be addressed by an environmental study. During scoping, the agency solicits public input, which could take the form of public hearings across the country where American citizens can voice their experiences of how immigration has had an impact on their lives. A nationwide programmatic analysis under NEPA of immigration would identify a host of environmental, social, cultural, and economic issues to be studied. A NEPA scoping process would also help determine threats to endangered species caused by immigration-driven population growth.

The Role of the Environmental Official

Practically speaking, the first thing the Trump administration should do is create a new dedicated staff position to guide the initiation of such efforts within the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ). The CEQ, which is an office within the Executive Office of the President, has the role of overseeing the implementation of NEPA procedures throughout all agencies. The CEQ’s role is to ensure that the agencies are correctly following NEPA. There is nothing out of the ordinary for an administration to create special staff positions within CEQ for specific issues where multiple agencies are involved in creating environmental impacts that must be analyzed under NEPA. For instance, during the Obama administration, there was a position dedicated to climate change.

This staff position could be granted authority across all federal agencies to identify and review all policies and decisions that cause environmental impacts by increasing the country’s population through legal and illegal immigration. This would ensure that all such policies are properly analyzed under the environmental laws. The staffer would be able to start the NEPA scoping process, and could also make recommendations to pause or reverse decisions related to legal immigration, benefits for immigrants, and amnesty-related policies – all of which are environmentally significant because they increase American population – pending the completion of environmental review. The staffer could also see to it that the new regulations promulgated by the CEQ would ensure that immigration policies are fit into a proper environmental review framework in the future.