Biden reinstates rigorous environmental review of major projects

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is reinstating federal regulations that require rigorous environmental review of major infrastructure projects such as highways, pipelines and oil wells — including likely impacts on climate change and nearby communities. Longstanding exams have been scaled back by the Trump administration in an effort to speed up projects and create jobs.

A rule finalized on Tuesday will restore key provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, a foundational environmental law designed to ensure community safeguards during reviews of a wide range of federal proposals, including roads, bridges and energy projects. allowed in the $1 trillion infrastructure act that Biden signed. last fall, the White House said.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality said the new rule, which takes effect at the end of May, should resolve challenges created by Trump-era politics and restore public confidence in environmental reviews. .

“Re-establishing these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict and help ensure projects are built right the first time,” said CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory. “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.”

Former President Donald Trump has revised environmental reviews in 2020 in a bid to fast-track projects he says would boost the economy and create jobs.

Trump has made reducing government regulations a feature of his presidency. He and his administration have frequently expressed frustration with the rules, which they say unnecessarily slow approval of interstate oil and gas pipelines and other major projects. The rule change imposed in 2020 limited timelines for environmental reviews and public comment and allowed federal officials to disregard a project’s role in cumulative effects, such as climate change.

The new rule comes as the Supreme Court reinstated a separate Trump-era rule that limits the power of states and Native American tribes to block pipelines and other energy projects that could pollute rivers, streams and other waterways.

In a decision that split the court 5-4 earlier this month, the justices agreed to stay a lower court judge’s order rejecting the Trump rule. The decision does not interfere with the Biden administration’s plan to rewrite Environmental Protection Agency rule. Work on a revision has begun, but the administration said a final rule is not expected until next spring. The Trump-era rule will remain in effect in the meantime.

Contrary to frequent claims by Trump and others in his administration, Mallory said tougher environmental scrutiny would actually speed up the completion of major projects because they would be more likely to withstand a legal challenge by environmental groups. or states. Many Trump-era environmental decisions have been overturned or delayed by the courts after they were found to have received insufficient analysis.

Environmental groups hailed the rule change, which they say restores basic environmental protections under NEPA, a 1970 law that requires the government to accept public comment and consider environmental, economic and sanitation before approving any major project.

“NEPA plays a vital role in keeping our communities and environment healthy and safe, and Donald Trump’s attempts to weaken NEPA were clearly nothing more than a handout to environmental polluters. ‘business,” said Leslie Fields, Sierra Club’s National Policy and Advocacy Director. and legal affairs.

Environmental groups and African-American, Latino and tribal activists had protested the Trump-era rule change, saying it would worsen pollution in areas already reeling from oil refineries, chemical plants and other dangerous sites. The Biden administration has made addressing these environmental justice issues a key priority.

“Communities of color, in particular, have relied on NEPA to ensure their voice is heard in decisions that profoundly impact their health and well-being,” said Rosalie Winn, senior counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, which challenged the Trump-era rule.

The White House action “restores essential NEPA safeguards and ensures that they will continue to protect people and communities today and into future generations,” she said.

Business groups and Republican lawmakers criticized the rule change, saying it would slow major infrastructure developments.

“Major projects that address critical issues such as improving access to public transit, adding more clean energy to the grid and expanding broadband access are languishing due to delays. ongoing and that needs to change,” said Chad Whiteman, vice president of environment and regulatory affairs for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman, the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the White House action would “arm NEPA” by making it harder to navigate and more bureaucratic.

“At a time when we should unite around bipartisan means to lower gas prices, rein in soaring inflation and solve the supply chain crisis, President Biden is sadly reinstating archaic regulations of NEPA which will only lead to delays and bureaucracy and fuel militant litigation,”’ he said.

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