Biden reinstates rigorous environmental reviews for large projects

Biden's administration will restore federal regulations that require a thorough environmental review of major infrastructure projects, such as pipelines, highways, and oil wells.

Biden reinstates rigorous environmental reviews for large projects

This includes potential impacts on climate change and communities nearby. Trump's administration has reduced the long-standing reviews in an effort to speed up projects and create new jobs.

The National Environmental Policy Act's key provisions will be restored by a rule that was finalized Tuesday. This law is a foundational environmental law and designed to provide community protections during review of federal proposals. It covers everything from roads and bridges to energy projects, as well as the infrastructure law that Biden signed last autumn, according the White House.

The new rule of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which took effect in May, was said to resolve the challenges created by Trump's policy and restore confidence during environmental reviews.

Brenda Mallory, Chair of CEQ, stated that "restoring these basic community safeguards" will give regulatory certainty, reduce conflict, and ensure projects are built correctly the first time. "Fixing the holes in the environmental review process will allow projects to be built quicker, more resilient, and bring greater benefits to those who live near them."

In an effort to speed up projects that he claimed would improve the economy and create jobs, former President Donald Trump restructured the environment reviews in 2020.

Trump made the reduction of government regulations a key feature of his presidency. Trump and his administration expressed dissatisfaction at regulations that they claimed unnecessarily slow approval of interstate oil and natural gas pipelines and other large projects. 2020's rule change restricted public comment and environmental reviews, and allowed federal officials the ability to ignore a project’s contribution to cumulative effects such as climate change.

This new rule is a result of the Supreme Court reinstituting a separate rule from Trump's era that restricts the power states and Native American tribes have to block pipelines or other energy projects that could pollute rivers, streams, and other waterways.

The court split 5-4 earlier in the month. Justices reached an agreement to stop a lower court judge from removing the Trump rule. This decision does not affect the Biden administration's plans to revise the Environmental Protection Agency rule. Although work has been underway to revise the rule, the administration stated that a final rule would not be available until next spring. In the interim, the Trump-era rule will continue to be in force.

Contrary to Trump's repeated assertions, Mallory stated that a more thorough environmental review will speed up the completion of major projects. This is because they are more likely to be able to resist legal challenges by environmental groups and states. Many Trump-era environmental decisions were reversed by courts or delayed after inadequate analysis was performed.

Environmental groups applauded the rule change. They said it restored the foundation of environmental protections under NEPA. A 1970 law, NEPA requires that the government accept public comments and consider the environmental, economic, and health effects before approving major projects.

"NEPA plays an important role in keeping our communities safe and healthy, and Donald Trump’s attempts to weaken NEPA were clearly just a handout for corporate polluters," said Leslie Fields (Sierra Club's national director for policy, advocacy, and legal affairs).

Environmental groups, Latino, African American and tribal activists protested Trump's rule change. They claimed that it would increase pollution in areas already ravaged by oil refineries, chemical plants, and other hazardous sites. This issue of environmental justice has been a priority for the Biden administration.

Rosalie Winn is a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund. She challenged Trump's rule.

She stated that the White House action "reestablishes important NEPA safeguards" and will ensure they continue to protect people, communities, and future generations ,'''.

Republican lawmakers and business groups criticized the rule change, claiming it would slow down major infrastructure development.

"Important projects which address critical issues such as improving access to public transportation, adding more clean power to the grid, and expanding broadband access are languishing because of continued delays and this must change," said Chad Whiteman vice president for regulatory affairs and environment for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Arkansas Rep. Bruce Westerman is the top Republican on House Natural Resources Committee. He stated that the White House's action would "weaponize NEPA", making it more difficult to navigate and more bureaucratic.

He stated that President Biden was regrettably reintroducing archaic NEPA regulations, which will only lead to delays and red tape, and feed activist litigation.

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