Biden Admin Reinstates 3 Provisions in NEPA Weakened by Trum nnnnnnp Admin

Along with Earthjustice, we say “YAY”. The Trump admin pushed through three big changes weakening the rules used to administer the National Environmental Protection Act. The rules were changed in July 2020 with the stated goals of reducing the environmental review for federal projects including roads and pipelines.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced the changes as part of “phase 1” of implementing the Biden Administrations “whole-of-government approach to tackling the climate crisis and confronting environmental injustice ”

The proposed rule would make the following three important changes to the 2020 NEPA rules:

Restore the requirement that federal agencies evaluate all the relevant environmental impacts of the decisions they are making. This proposed change would make clear that agencies must consider the “direct,” “indirect,” and “cumulative” impacts of a proposed decision, including by evaluating a full range of climate change impacts and assessing the consequences of releasing additional pollution in communities that are already overburdened by polluted air or dirty water.

Restore the full authority of agencies to work with communities to develop and analyze alternative approaches that could minimize environmental and public health costs. This proposed change would give agencies the flexibility to determine the “purpose and need” of a proposed project based on a variety of factors, and to work with project proponents and communities to mitigate or avoid environmental harms by analyzing common sense alternatives. The 2020 NEPA rule limited federal agencies’ ability to develop and consider alternative designs or approaches that do not fully align with the stated goals of the project’s sponsor, often a private company. 

Establish CEQ’s NEPA regulations as a floor, rather than a ceiling, for the environmental review standards that federal agencies should be meeting. This proposal would restore the ability of Federal agencies to tailor their NEPA procedures, consistent with the CEQ NEPA regulations, to help meet the specific needs of their agencies, the public, and stakeholders.

Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen had this to say about the changes.

“The Biden administration is taking key steps to reverse the damage of the Trump administration and restore essential environmental protections under NEPA, our core framework for transparent decision-making informed by the best science and the lived experience of impacted people and communities.

“By reinstating the long-standing definitions of direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts, the Council for Environmental Quality is making federal agencies responsible for addressing the reality of environmental injustice, ecosystem collapse, and our climate emergency.

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