Energy & Environment

White House proposes reversing parts of Trump rewrite of bedrock environmental law implementation

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The White House is looking to reverse some changes made under the Trump administration that eliminated certain environmental protections from the implementation of a bedrock law.

The White House said in a statement that it would propose reversing parts of the Trump administration’s rollback of the implementation of a law called the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). 

NEPA requires the government to consider environmental impacts of major projects, and governs the construction of things like airports, highways, buildings and pipelines. 

The changes announced Wednesday by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) are considered to be “Phase 1” and will restore provisions that had been in place for decades.

Specifically, it would seek to ensure that additional environmental implications are considered and give more flexibility to government agencies to consider project alternatives. 

In the coming months, the administration will work on a second set of “Phase 2” changes. 

“The basic community safeguards we are proposing to restore would help ensure that American infrastructure gets built right the first time, and delivers real benefits – not harms – to people who live nearby,” CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory said in a statement. 

“Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help reduce conflict and litigation and help clear up some of the uncertainty that the previous administration’s rule caused,” she said. 

When it made its changes, the Trump administration billed them as a modernization and said they would speed up infrastructure buildout. 

One of the most controversial changes to NEPA instituted by the Trump administration is the change in what makes up the impacts that must be considered under the law, getting rid of specifications to consider projects’ “direct” “indirect” and “cumulative” impacts. 

Critics of the change feared that this would result in a lack of consideration of some of these impacts, particularly cumulative impacts, which are how a project’s effects like pollution will combine with already-existing impacts from other nearby projects to affect a community overall. 

The Biden administration says it’s also aiming to work with communities to figure out approaches that would lessen costs to the environment and public health.

It would do so by getting rid of a Trump-era requirement for the government to base its perception of a project’s “purpose and need” on what private companies behind the project want. 

It would also establish that the regulations are “a floor, rather than a ceiling” for what federal agencies can mandate for environmental reviews, according to the statement. 

A CEQ official told The Hill that the regulations are being done in two phases so that the agency can tackle what it sees as the biggest problems with the Trump rule quickly. 

The official also said that the Phase 2 rule might not necessarily be a total elimination of Trump-era changes, citing a provision for stronger tribal consultations as something from the 2020 rule that’s well-liked. 

Tags Brenda Mallory National Environmental Policy Act NEPA

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