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White House Restoring Stricter Environmental Reviews for Major Projects

October 8, 2021 by Dan McCue
Brenda Mallory, chair, White House Council on Environmental Quality. (White House photo)

WASHINGTON — The White House Council on Environmental Quality is restoring provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act set aside by the Trump administration to bolster the environmental review process for a wide range of projects.

The former president, a developer by profession, rolled back the Nixon-era law in July 2020, arguing it stymied economic growth and job creation.

Critics of Trump’s decision said at the time that he was ignoring the fact the protections were needed to prevent large scale developments from fouling the environment and to ensure the public would be heard on projects that impacted their communities.

Among other things, they said, the 1970 environmental law, also known as NEPA, is credited with giving poorer communities a platform to negotiate with government regulators and big businesses over major projects.

On Wednesday, the Biden administration suggested it agreed with the critics, noting in a statement issued by the White House that, “the 2020 changes caused implementation challenges for agencies, and sowed confusion among stakeholders and the general public.”

“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,” said Brenda Mallory, chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, in the same 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.

Specifically, the council is proposing to:

  • Restore the requirement that federal agencies evaluate all the relevant environmental impacts of the decisions they are making;
  • Restore the full authority of agencies to work with communities to develop and analyze alternative approaches that could minimize environmental and public health costs; and
  • Establish the NEPA regulations as a floor, rather than a ceiling, for the environmental review standards that federal agencies should be meeting.

“This proposal would restore the ability of Federal agencies to tailor their NEPA procedures, consistent with the NEPA regulations, to help meet the specific needs of their agencies, the public, and stakeholders,” the White House said.

But not everyone agrees.

West Virginia Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, the top Republican on the Senate Environment Committee, blasted the Biden administration’s decision this week, saying it would “reverse the common-sense changes that modernized the NEPA process. 

“Protracting the paperwork process adds unnecessary red tape back into building infrastructure,” Capito said. “At a time when our country is desperately trying to build, why announce these changes now and throw states and private builders into limbo? 

“As I’ve said before, we can’t ‘Build Back Better’ if we can’t build at all. The proposed reforms are unnecessary revisions meant to appease environmental groups who hate anything the Trump administration’s CEQ implemented,” she added

The council is holding two virtual meetings on the proposed rule to solicit public opinion. The first will be held on Oct. 19, from 1-4 p.m., while the second will be on Oct. 21, from 5-8 p.m.

The White House is directing anyone who wants to register for the meetings or simply would like more information to visit http://nepa.gov.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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