WASHINGTON — The Biden administration will announce Tuesday that it restores sharing of a fundamental environmental law, again requiring climate impacts to be considered and input to local communities before federal agencies approve highways, pipelines and other major projects.
The administration plans to revive the requirements of the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act, which was repealed by President Donald J. Trump, who complained that they have slowed development of mines, road extensions and similar projects.
Under the latest rule announced Tuesday, federal agencies must conduct an analysis of the greenhouse gases that could be emitted over the lifetime of a proposed project, as well as how climate change could affect new highways, bridges and other infrastructure, the White House said. . Council for Environmental Quality. The rule would also ensure that agencies give communities directly affected by projects a greater role in the approval process.
Brenda Mallory, chair of the council, described the ordinance as restoring “basic community safeguards” that the Trump administration had eliminated.
The Biden Administration’s Environmental Agenda
President Biden is pushing for tougher regulations but faces a narrow path to achieving his goals in the fight against global warming.
“By closing these gaps in the environmental assessment process, projects can be built faster, be more resilient and deliver greater benefits to people living nearby,” she said in a statement.
The move comes as President Biden’s climate agenda faces headwinds from Congress and the courts. The president is also under pressure to ramp up oil production as a way to temper high gas prices in the United States. Last week, the Interior Department said it would begin offering leases for oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters, despite Mr Biden’s campaign promise to end new leases. Senior government officials this week insisted the lease decision was necessary because of a court ruling, saying it had also increased federal royalties that companies must pay to drill.
On Earth Day Saturday, Mr. Biden will be in Seattle, where aides said he is expected to deliver a speech highlighting efforts to expand solar and offshore wind farms, as well as clean energy initiatives. energy that Congress approved last year as part of a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package.
Government officials said the new rule would not have major immediate impacts, as the Biden administration had already weighed the climate change impacts of the proposed projects. But it would force future governments to stick to the process or face a lengthy regulatory process and potentially legal challenges to undo it.
The National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, was signed in 1970 by President Richard M. Nixon, following several environmental disasters, including an oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, and a series of fires on Ohio’s heavily polluted Cuyahoga River that the nation shook.
It requires federal agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of proposed major federal actions before proceeding. Agencies are not required to reject projects that could exacerbate climate change, just to research and report the effects.
The Trump administration had relieved the government of how proposed new dams or pipelines could, for example, increase emissions of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane, which are heating the planet to dangerous levels. Requiring agencies to analyze only “reasonably foreseeable” effects. Mr Trump said the change would eliminate “mountains and mountains of bureaucracy” that he said had delayed projects across the country.
Under the changes announced Tuesday, agencies should consider the direct, indirect and cumulative effects of a decision — including the effect a new project would have on neighborhoods already affected by pollution.
The government’s changes also encourage agencies to study alternatives to projects that local communities oppose, and it says the law’s requirements are “a floor rather than a ceiling” when it comes to environmental assessments.
Republicans and some corporate groups are hostile to the changes, arguing that additional assessments would slow development of much-needed infrastructure.
The American Road and Transportation Builders Association, a trade association, wrote in comments to the Council on Environmental Quality that federal reviews for many transportation projects take five to seven years, and some as much as 14 years. The new rule, he argued, would make matters worse.
“Project delays due to the current NEPA process will often lead to demonstrable and significant costs for taxpayers,” the group wrote in a letter to the agency. “This is a simple logic, based, among other things, on the continued rise in labor and material costs.”
Democrats and environmental groups embraced the move.
Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, an Arizona Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said the Trump administration had “stripped and gutted” environmental protections.
“I am pleased that this administration recognizes how hugely wrong those actions were and that it is making progress to restore the protections that have helped protect our environment while promoting sustainable development,” he said in a statement.
The new rule also proposes empowering federal agencies to work closely with communities to develop alternative approaches to projects. Historically, the NEPA process has been one of the most important tools available to local communities to try to modify or halt projects that could cause significant damage.
The last line represents the first stage of a two-step regulatory process. Government officials said it would propose a series of broader legislative changes in the coming months.