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Biden Administration Revisits NEPA Modernization Efforts

The Biden administration on Tuesday issued a final rule to reinstate a few environmental regulations involved in infrastructure project permitting, which the previous administration had removed, according to The Hill

What’s happening: “The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is finalizing its ‘phase 1’ changes governing the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires environmental reviews for projects such as highways or pipelines.”

  • Among many other changes, in its 2020 revision of NEPA, the Trump administration attempted to remove explicit requirements to consider the “cumulative” effects of infrastructure projects (i.e., how a project might interact with other pollution sources).
  • While this approach could be helpful in streamlining reviews, courts have been skeptical of it, leading to litigation limbo. 

The new rule: The Biden administration’s revision “reaffirmed the need to consider the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts,” according to The Hill.

  • However, the new rule quietly leaves in place most of the major Trump-era modernization efforts.
  • By continuing to promote early community engagement and reducing paperwork, CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory argued that “[r]estoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict and help ensure that projects get built right the first time.”

What’s next: In the coming months, the administration plans to propose “phase 2” NEPA changes aimed at improving the efficiency and effectiveness of projects’ environmental reviews, according to The Hill.

The NAM’s view: “During this time of alarming global turmoil, we must do everything in our power to protect our energy security and increase domestic manufacturing—not only to maintain economic growth and deliver relief to American families but also to ensure we can continue leading the world in supporting the people of Ukraine,” said NAM President and CEO Jay Timmons in a statement

  • “Today’s NEPA permitting announcement misses the larger point that we need to be pursuing a clear strategy to harness every possible source of energy here in the United States.”
  • “Even though the administration kept many of the reforms the NAM had fought for, this does not provide the predictability and streamlined permitting we need. And if the next step in this process is derailed by unrealistic agendas, then America will feel the pain of a weaker economy, diminished national security and slower implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.”
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