Biden reverses Trump-era rewrite of key environmental law

President Joe Biden’s White House on Tuesday finalized its reversal of the Trump administration’s industry-friendly overhaul of one of the United States’ fundamental environmental laws.

New rules from the White House Council on Environmental Quality restore key provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, requiring federal agencies to reassess climate impacts when reviewing pipelines, power plants, airports and other infrastructure projects.

“Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict and help ensure projects are built right the first time,” CEQ President Brenda Mallory said in a statement. “Fixing these loopholes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient, and deliver greater benefits to people who live nearby.”

NEPA is a 50-year-old law that protects air, water and land by requiring federal regulators to conduct detailed environmental assessments of major infrastructure projects. The Trump-era changes, finalized in 2020, were the first major update to the law in more than four decades, part of a broad administrative effort to expedite energy projects and other developments. In addition to allowing agencies to ignore climate impacts, the rewrite largely cut the public off from the environmental review process.

Sections of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline are seen at the construction site in Park Rapids, Minnesota, in June 2021. Reversing the rules on Tuesday will require projects like this to be assessed for climate impacts.

KEREM YUCEL via Getty Images

Critics have condemned the Trump administration’s overhauls as a attack on environmental justicebecause NEPA is a preferred way for communities, often made up of low-income people and people of color, to oppose projects that could endanger the environment and public health.

Under the Biden administration’s new rule, agencies must report on all environmental impacts, including how greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution could further harm communities already suffering environmental effects. disproportionate. The rule also “restores full authority to agencies to work with communities to develop and analyze alternative approaches that could minimize environmental and public health costs.”

The White House said the rules unveiled Tuesday are the first of two phases of regulations aimed at strengthening environmental law.

Environmental groups were quick to applaud the move. Christy Goldfusssenior vice president for energy and environment at the Center for American Progress, called it “a crucial first step in rolling back changes made under the previous administration that undermined public input and scientific integrity. “.

“Now is the time to move urgently to the next phase of restoring protections for the environmental review process,” she said. “That means making sure the process is clear, efficient and inclusive so that President Biden’s planned build-up of clean energy capacity can proceed smoothly.”

The US Chamber of Commerce, the business lobby with a long history of opposition to climate regulations, warned that the changes would only add to an already cumbersome infrastructure approval process.

“With rapidly rising inflation, major supply chain disruptions and labor shortages, the last thing our country needs is unnecessarily long and redundant bureaucracy and delayed project approvals,” Marty Durbin, the chamber’s senior vice president for policy, said in a statement.

Tuesday’s announcement comes as many climate and environmental advocates are more and more frustrated with Biden’s climate record. In a call with reporters on Monday, a senior administration official criticized the media and pundits, saying they had sought to declare Biden’s climate agenda dead.


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