Biden renews stricter environmental review of major projects Business news

Written by MATTHEW DALY, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Biden administration is restoring federal regulations that require a rigorous environmental review of major infrastructure projects such as highways, gas pipelines and oil wells – including likely impacts on climate change and nearby communities. Long-term reviews have been reduced by the Trump administration to speed up projects and create jobs.

The rule, which was finalized on Tuesday, will restore key provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act, a basic environmental law designed to provide community safeguards during reviews of a number of federal proposals, including roads, bridges and energy projects approved in the Infrastructure Act worth $ 1 trillion signed by Biden. last fall, the White House said.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality said the new rule, which takes effect in late May, should address the challenges posed by Trump-era policies and restore public confidence during environmental reviews.

“Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide legislative security, reduce conflict, and help ensure that projects are built properly for the first time,” said CEQ President Brenda Mallory. “Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help build projects faster, be more resilient and provide greater benefits to people living nearby.”

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Former President Donald Trump revised environmental reviews in 2020 to accelerate projects he said would boost the economy and provide jobs.

Trump called the reduction in government regulations a sign of his presidency. He and his administration have often expressed disappointment with the rules, which they say have unnecessarily slowed the approval of interstate oil and gas pipelines and other major projects. The rule change introduced in 2020 limited the deadlines for environmental reviews and public comments and allowed federal officials to disregard the project’s role in cumulative effects such as climate change.

The new rule comes when the Supreme Court reintroduced a separate rule from the Trump era that limits the power of states and Native American tribes to block pipelines and other energy projects that can pollute rivers, streams and other waterways.

In a decision that split the court into 5 to 4 earlier this month, judges agreed to stop a lower court judge’s order rejecting Trump’s rule. The decision is without prejudice to the Biden administration’s plan to rewrite the Environmental Protection Agency’s rule. Work on the audit has begun, but management said final rules are not expected until next spring. The Trump-era rule will meanwhile remain in place.

Contrary to the frequent claims of Trump and others in his administration, Mallory said a tougher environmental review will actually speed up the completion of major projects, as they will be more likely to withstand a legal challenge from environmental groups or states. Many Trump-era environmental decisions have been overturned or postponed by courts after finding they were not sufficiently analyzed.

Environmental groups have welcomed the change in the rule, which they say restores basic environmental protection under the NEPA, a 1970 law that requires the government to accept public comments and take environmental, economic and health impacts into account before approving any major project. .

“NEPA plays a key role in maintaining the health and safety of our communities and our environment, and Donald Trump’s attempts to weaken NEPA were clearly nothing more than data to corporate polluters,” said Leslie Fields, Sierra Club’s national director of policy and advocacy. and legal matters.

Environmental groups and African-American, Latin American and tribal activists have protested against the change in Trump-era rules, saying it would worsen pollution in areas already threatened by oil refineries, chemical plants and other hazardous areas. The Biden administration has made addressing such environmental justice issues a key priority.

“Color communities in particular have relied on NEPA to ensure that their voice is heard in decisions that have a major impact on their health and well-being,” said Rosalie Winn, a senior attorney at the Environmental Protection Fund who challenged the rule from The Trump era.

The White House action “restores the essential protective measures of NEPA and ensures that they will continue to protect people and communities today and in future generations,” she said.

Business groups and Republican lawmakers have criticized the rule change, saying it would slow more infrastructure development.

“Important projects addressing critical issues such as improving access to public transport, adding clean energy to the grid and expanding broadband access are stalled due to constant delays and this needs to change,” said Chad Whiteman, vice president of environment and regulatory affairs for American Chamber of Commerce.

Arkansas spokesman Bruce Westerman, the top Republican on the House of Representatives’ natural resources committee, said the White House campaign would “arm the NEPA” as it would make navigation more difficult and more bureaucratic.

“At a time when we should unite around bilateral ways to cut gas prices, tame rising inflation and tackle the supply chain crisis, President Biden is unfortunately reintroducing archaic NEPA regulations that will only cause delays and bureaucracy and fuel activists’ lawsuits. ” ‘ he said.

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