On Tuesday, April 19, 2022, the White House announced that it has restored key protections to an important environmental law governing the construction of pipelines, roads, and other infrastructure that Donald Trump had swept away during his presidency. These new rules will require federal agencies to thoroughly assess the climate impacts of major infrastructure projects – such as the construction of highways, bridges, plants, or oil and gas pipelines – according to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a 1970 law aiming to mitigate the impact of human activities on the natural environment.
The Trump-era changes to the implementation of this law – such as the exemption of many projects from review in order to speed up the approval process, or the sidestepping of co-called “indirect” climate impacts during project assessment – made it more difficult for environmental agencies and community activists to challenge federal infrastructure projects that could negatively impact the environment and increase global warming.
Under the new regulations approved by President Biden this week, infrastructure projects will need to account for how their actions may increase greenhouse gas emissions, fragment wildlife habitat, or impose new burdens on communities that have already faced disproportionate amounts of pollution, such as those from poor or minority neighborhoods. Moreover, agencies and businesses will need to take into consideration not only “direct,” but also “indirect” and “cumulative” climate impacts of their actions.
“I’m glad this administration recognizes how egregiously wrong those actions were and is moving forward to restore the protections that have helped protect our environment while promoting sustainable development for decades,” said Raúl M. Grijalva, the chair of the House Committee on National Resources.
Although Biden Administration’s new regulations are seen as a positive development by many individuals and organizations, several business groups are more critical, arguing that these changes are likely to raise costs and slow construction.
“It should never take longer to get federal approval for an infrastructure project than it takes to build the project, but that very well may be the result of the administration’s changes,” said Marty Durbin, senior vice president of policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In his view, with supply chain disruptions, “the last thing our country needs is unnecessarily extensive and duplicative bureaucratic red tape.”
Nevertheless, White House officials remained adamant in their decision to reverse the Trump-era regulations, and insisted that concerns about delays are misplaced. “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,” concluded Brenda Mallory, chair of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality.