Biden reverses Trump to restore environmental law on highways, bridges, other projects

The Biden administration moved Tuesday to restore federal requirements that government agencies evaluate the environmental impacts of their actions.

President Donald Trump had stripped the provisions from the National Environmental Policy Act. Biden’s move is the latest in a contentious back-and-forth over rules signed into law by President Richard Nixon and enacted in 1970.

A rule announced Tuesday by the Biden administration will require that climate impacts be analyzed before federal agencies sign off on highways and other infrastructure projects, restoring safeguards that had been removed by President Donald Trump.
Supporters argue the law is essential to protect the environment from climate change and ensure federal agencies work with communities to consider alternatives.

“Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict, and help ensure that projects get built right the first time,” Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, said in a statement. “Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient, and provide greater benefits to people who live nearby.”

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Environmental groups applauded Tuesday’s move, expressing hope the Biden administration will go further on restoring policies rolled back during the Trump administration.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called Tuesday’s measures a “critical first step toward restoring common-sense environmental safeguards,” but the administration has “a long way to go” and little time to address environmental crises.

“The Biden administration must ensure that every federal decision addresses systemic environmental injustice, climate chaos and the extinction crisis,” Hartl said. “These key protections must be quickly put back in place and then strengthened.”

The rule change announced Tuesday by President Joe Biden will restore requirements that federal agencies conduct environmental reviews and allow for public comment before starting new infrastructure projects. The Trump administration did away with the rules in order to speed up approvals.
Critics of the law have long held that it slows down progress and drives up costs for essential infrastructure projects. Opponents of natural gas and oil pipelines often use the National Environmental Policy Act in court to contest the energy sector’s plans.

Representatives from that industry decried Tuesday’s actions. Frank Macchiarola, a senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement that the measures “add more bureaucratic red tape” to energy infrastructure projects, including for wind and solar, when energy costs are rising in the USA and Europe.

“Once again, the administration’s policy actions aren’t matching their rhetoric regarding the need for more American energy production,” Macchiarola said. “We urge the administration to change course and establish a timely and efficient permitting process that supports the energy security needs of the U.S. and our allies overseas.”


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