Judge rejects challenge to Trump environmental review rule rewrite

Judge rejects challenge to Trump environmental review rule rewrite

A federal judge in Virginia on Monday rejected a lawsuit put forward by environmental groups challenging Trump-era changes to the implementation of a bedrock environmental law. 

Judge James Jones threw out the lawsuit from the green groups, arguing that it can’t proceed because challengers need to wait until the changes are actually being applied. 

“I agree with the defendants and defendant-intervenors that the plaintiffs’ claims regarding the 2020 Rule are not appropriate for judicial resolution at this time,” wrote the Clinton appointee. 

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“Delaying judicial review of the 2020 Rule until it can be considered in an as-applied challenge will not create a significant hardship for the plaintiffs,” he added. 

The case in question was over the changes to the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires environmental reviews ahead of projects such as pipelines, highways and drilling or other major actions on public lands.

The Trump administration weakened the law by aiming to reduce the time the reviews take from an average of 4 1/2 years to about two years and allowed for more industry involvement in the process, among other changes. 

Jones wrote that the groups can challenge the law again when an agency comes to a decision on a project that they feel does not meet NEPA's requirements. 

Meanwhile, the Biden administration is reconsidering, and likely to make changes to, the Trump-era action. 

Reached for comment, the White House Council on Environmental Quality, which oversees NEPA implementation, referred The Hill to a prior statement.

“The previous Administration’s weakening of environmental reviews has led to uncertainty for project proponents, communities, and stakeholders, and turned away from the basic science that should guide responsible development,” a spokesperson said on its spring regulatory agenda. 

“Over the coming months, the Council on Environmental Quality will take a steady approach to ensuring clear, fair, and efficient rules of the road for environmental reviews so that things get built right the first time and communities have a say,” the spokesperson said.