WASHINGTON – The White House proposed on Wednesday that part of one of the country’s basic environmental laws be restored, requiring authorities to conduct a climate analysis of large-scale projects and involve the affected communities more strongly in the process.
If the decision to change the way the government reviews pipelines, highways, and other projects under the National Environmental Policy Act is completed, a significant rollback by the Donald Trump administration would be reversed. While the proposal received praise from environmentalists, it has been criticized by developers and could make it difficult to modernize the aging bridges and roads that President Joe Biden has promised to rebuild.
Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House’s Environmental Quality Council, said in a statement that the changes would not delay large-scale projects because they would make it easier to reach consensus on how to build them.
“The basic community safeguards that we propose for restoration would help American infrastructure be built right the first time and bring real benefit – no harm – to the people who live nearby,” she said. “Filling these loopholes in the environmental assessment process will help reduce conflict and litigation, and remove some of the uncertainty caused by the previous government’s rule.”
Mallory added that the move would restore the law’s focus on climate change, a top diplomatic priority for Biden ahead of next month’s United Nations climate change summit in Glasgow, Scotland.
In addition, the White House said the proposed rule would encourage agencies to consider alternatives to projects rejected by affected communities, and it would make it clear that the law’s requirements are “a floor and no ceiling” if it does is about environmental audits.
Chad Whiteman, vice president of environmental and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Energy Institute, said Biden’s proposal would delay the completion of infrastructure projects at a time when Congress is about to pass a bipartisan modernization plan worth about 1 trillion US dollars dispute the country’s roads, bridges and ports.
“By reversing some of the major updates to our outdated permitting process, the Biden government’s new proposed NEPA rule will only serve to slow down future infrastructure building,” he said in a statement. “Major projects addressing critical issues such as improving access to public transport, adding more clean energy to the grid, and expanding broadband access are shrinking due to persistent delays and that needs to change.”
Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of policy, economics and regulatory affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, said the trade group is evaluating the Biden proposal “to ensure it provides the security needed to kickstart critical job creation infrastructure projects while maintaining infrastructure projects, ensuring a robust environmental assessment process. “
Last year, President Donald Trump revised the way authorities applied the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, on the grounds that it placed too many costs and requirements on developers. The law requires the federal government to analyze the environmental impact of a major project or federal measure – and obtain public contributions – before approving it.
Activists have used the 51-year-old law as an effective tool to delay the construction of many major projects through legal challenges. For example, a controversial state review of the Keystone XL pipeline extended the process long enough for Biden to block it, despite Trump approving the project shortly after he took office.
Under the Trump Rule, some projects and activities were subject to shorter environmental reviews, while others were exempt from environmental reviews. And in one of the most controversial changes, agencies were instructed not to assess the “indirect” or “cumulative” impacts of projects, such as greenhouse gas emissions related to climate change.
Trump called the regulatory rollback a “truly historic breakthrough” that would accelerate the construction of infrastructure projects and regain “America’s proud heritage as a building nation”.
But proponents of the bill argue that it is helping Americans – especially those in poor and minority communities who bear the brunt of many polluting industries – to make proposals that will affect them for decades to come.
A number of environmental groups challenged the Trump rule in court, arguing that it was “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act. However, in court records, the Biden government argued that the existing rule should not be lifted until a full review of its merits has been completed.
In June, a federal judge in Virginia dismissed the Southern Environmental Law Center’s challenge to the Trump administration’s policies, saying the complaint was premature. The group has asked the U.S. 4th District Court of Appeals to overturn the decision.
Kym Hunter, one of the group’s senior lawyers, said in a telephone interview that the White House’s proposal did not go far enough.
“The Trump rule was 66 pages of amendments, and every one of them was illegal,” Hunter said. “That is why we still claim that the Trump regulation should be repealed. And we will continue to enforce this in court. “
Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del., Who played a key role in drafting the bipartisan infrastructure bill, called the proposed regulation a “welcome move” that would protect the environment and communities.
“Reinstating these provisions of our nation’s fundamental environmental law is good for our planet and good for our economy – a win-win situation,” Carper said in a statement.
The proposed rule represents the first phase of a two-step regulatory process. In the coming months, the White House plans to propose a second, broader set of changes that officials said would address how authorities address climate change and industry groups more Provide security in conducting inspections under the law.