By Nick Ciolino
The White House announced this week it’s restoring environmental regulations scaled back during the Trump administration.
In 2020, then-President Donald Trump moved to roll back provisions in the Nixon-era National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in an effort to cut red tape and make it easier to complete infrastructure projects.
“The United States can’t compete and prosper if a bureaucratic system holds us back from building what we need,” Trump said at the time, calling the federal approval process “outrageously slow and burdensome.”
The Biden administration on Tuesday finalized a rule restoring the requirement that federal agencies rigorously evaluate all environmental impacts of their decisions, including big construction projects such as highways, pipelines, and oil wells.
The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) said the new rule, which takes effect in late May, will resolve challenges to government agencies and confusion to the general public created by the Trump-era policy.
“Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict, and help ensure that projects get built right the first time,” CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory 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.”
The rule change also restores the government’s authority to determine “purpose and need” of a proposed project and establishes NEPA regulations “as a floor rather than a ceiling,” according to the White House statement.
The CEQ says it’s also planning to propose a second phase of changes to the rules in NEPA to “provide further improvements to the efficiency and effectiveness of environmental review processes and reflect the administration’s commitment to achieving environmental justice and confronting climate change.”
The move from the Biden administration has found support from environmentalist groups.
“We are encouraged to see the Biden administration take action to restore this bedrock environmental protection. NEPA plays a critical role in keeping our communities and our environment healthy and safe, and Donald Trump’s attempts to weaken NEPA were clearly nothing more than a handout to corporate polluters,” Sierra Club National Director of Policy Leslie Fields said in a statement.
But Republicans in Congress are expressing concern. Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), who sits on the House Natural Resources Committee, said the White House action would “weaponize NEPA” by making it harder to navigate and more bureaucratic.
“At a time when we should be coalescing around bipartisan ways to lower gas prices, tame skyrocketing inflation, and fix the supply chain crisis, President Biden is unfortunately reinstating archaic NEPA regulations that will only result in delays and red tape and feed activist litigation,” Westerman said.
The rule change comes as the Biden administration is busy planning projects and allocating funding from the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law Biden signed last fall.
Tom Ozimek and The Associated Press contributed to this report.