The Biden administration plans to restore three major provisions to a bedrock environmental law that were rolled back under President Donald Trump, it announced Wednesday.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality said it plans to restore the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires federal agencies to assess the environmental impact of projects such as the construction of mines, highways, water infrastructure and gas pipelines.
The changes will come in two phases, the first of which is reinstating three key aspects of the law that were dismantled by the Trump administration. The second phase is a “broader” set of changes, the council said, which will focus on community feedback and fair public involvement in the environmental review process.
“Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help reduce conflict and litigation and help clear up some of the uncertainty that the previous administration’s rule caused,” CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory said in a statement.
The Biden administration is proposing to require federal agencies to evaluate all the relevant environmental impacts of their decisions — including climate change impacts. It also proposes giving federal agencies the authority to work closely with communities to develop alternative approaches, and to give agencies the flexibility to tailor NEPA regulations to their needs.
NEPA, which was signed into law in 1970 by President Richard Nixon, is considered one of the foundational environmental laws formed at the beginning of the modern environmental movement.
When Trump weakened the law in July 2020, he did so under the guise of rolling back onerous bureaucratic red tape that he said made it harder to complete projects. Environmental advocates criticized it as another example of the Trump administration dismantling important safety guards that protect the environment and public health.
Trump’s decision to roll back the policy “may be the single biggest giveaway to polluters in the past 40 years,” Brett Hartl, Center for Biological Diversity government affairs director, said at the time.
Environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday praised the Biden administration’s move to restore the protections.
“Today’s proposal is an important first step to reestablish NEPA safeguards and ensure the federal government considers the climate and environmental justice impacts of industrial projects,” said Rosalie Winn, senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources, said the administration’s announcement “a welcome first step in placing public health needs and the lives of Americans ahead of the profits of corporate polluters.”
Democratic Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan applauded the administration’s effort to restore the provisions.
“Without these changes, leaving the 2020 modifications could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and reduce air quality, threatening public health and halting progress in the fight against climate change,” Dingell said in a statement.
The CEQ will hold two virtual meetings to allow for public comment on the proposed rule changes later this month.
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