Reinstatement of the environmental impact assessment rule

WASHINGTON — The White House announced Tuesday that it has restored key protections of a landmark environmental law governing the construction of pipelines, highways and other projects that President Donald Trump swept away as part of an effort aimed at reducing bureaucracy.

The new rule will require federal agencies to review the climate impacts of major infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, which was signed into law by President Richard Nixon in 1970. It required the government to assess the environmental consequences of actions federal, such as approving the construction of oil and gas pipelines.

In 2020, Trump introduced major changes to the implementation of the law, saying the government would exempt many projects from review and speed up the approval process. His administration also said federal agencies would not consider “indirect” climate impacts. Trump and his business allies said the move would reinvigorate infrastructure projects across the country.

Under the rule finalized by the White House Biden this week, regulators will now have to report on how government actions may increase greenhouse gas emissions and whether they will impose new burdens on communities, particularly communities. poor and minority neighborhoods, which have already faced disproportionate amounts of pollution.

President Joe Biden is looking for ways to advance his climate agenda despite growing concerns about rising costs to the economy. Under pressure to increase energy supply and reduce the price of fuel, his administration announced on Friday that it would resume issuing oil and gas leases, disappointing climate activists. The administration is also working to implement a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed last fall.

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 environmental 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 that will only lead to delays and bureaucracy and fuel activist litigation,” he said.

White House officials have insisted the downturns won’t happen.

“Fixing these loopholes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient and provide greater benefits to people who live nearby,” said Brenda Mallory, House Council Chair. Blanche on the quality of the environment.

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 rulings have been overturned or delayed by the courts after they were found to have been insufficiently analyzed.

Trump-era changes have made it harder for environmental and community activists to challenge federal infrastructure projects, limiting public scrutiny of the building of roads, bridges and power plants — and freeing up government agencies. obligation to examine all the ways in which projects could affect the climate. cash.

Trump said he was cutting “mountains and mountains of bureaucratic red tape,” saving millions of dollars and jump-starting the economy.

Now the Biden administration is telling agencies to consider “direct”,”indirect” and ” cumulative” impacts of their actions. The new rule will also give agencies greater leeway to consider alternatives that are less harmful to the environment and develop their own stricter procedures for environmental assessments. The White House proposed the changes in October and promises a second phase of regulations over the “coming months.”

When Biden took office, many of his environmental allies pushed for the president to reinvigorate the law. The statute is considered one of the most important environmental laws in the country, widely imitated by other countries.

It requires federal agencies to conduct environmental assessments and consult with the public before they begin. Black and Hispanic communities in the United States that have suffered disproportionately from poor air quality and industrial pollution have used the law to secure significant changes in projects that would have further harmed their neighborhoods.

“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.

Other conservationists have used the law in court to block logging, mining and oil drilling. Among the projects blocked by the law was the canceled Keystone XL pipeline, which sparked waves of protests and litigation from those concerned about climate change and water pollution from leaks. The company behind the project canceled it after Biden rescinded a crucial permit.

Revising the law has long been a priority for Republican lawmakers and industry groups representing oil and gas companies, logging interests and construction companies. They accused environmentalists of weaponizing the law to defeat projects they oppose.

For environmentalists, the final rule is a victory after a series of deadlocks for Biden’s climate agenda.

About $555 billion in proposed climate actions have been stalled in Congress since last winter, when a lack of support from Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., derailed the Democrats’ spending bill . With Congress taking little action on climate change, the administration has focused on using the president’s executive authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

But an upcoming Supreme Court decision in West Virginia v. EPA, a case that will go to trial this year, could frustrate the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to steer the United States toward cleaner energy sources. And since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent oil prices soaring, Biden has faced an additional challenge: an emboldened fossil fuel industry calling for expanded drilling on federal lands. Pressure to lower gas prices has prompted the president, who has campaigned on fighting climate change, to encourage more domestic oil and gas production.

Information for this article was provided by Dino Grandoni and Anna Phillips of The Washington Post and Matthew Daly of The Associated Press.

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