Biden Administration Strengthens the National Environmental Policy Act

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a proposed rule that revises the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The 236-page revision requires federal agencies to consider environmental justice and climate change in reviewing projects. The Bipartisan Permitting Reform Implementation Rule is phase two of the new NEPA rules. Last year, CEQ finalized a rule that restored NEPA’s basic functions, including requiring federal agencies to evaluate all relevant environmental effects.

The proposed rule will:

  • Reverse changes former President Trump made to NEPA, which gutted it.
  • Reinstate the requirement that federal agencies consider projects’ “cumulative” environmental impacts.
  • Quicken approvals for renewable energy projects.

“This rule is a key element of President Biden’s permitting reform agenda that will help us speed the build-out of our clean energy future while reducing pollution and harms in communities that have been left out and left behind for far too long,” said Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House CEQ, in a statement.

“We applaud CEQ for finally moving to formalize the federal government’s assessment of environmental justice and climate change impacts, which our judicial system has long called for,” said Hallie Templeton, Legal Director for Friends of the Earth. “Studying these impacts is key to our country’s ability to meaningfully and expeditiously respond to the climate crisis and protect everyone who depends on a healthy planet to survive.”

NEPA Basics

Congress signed NEPA into law in 1970. Six months before, the Cuyahoga River caught fire because of unregulated sewage and industrial waste dumping. The purpose of NEPA is to “promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and the biosphere and stimulate health and welfare of man.” Before NEPA, federal agencies could approve projects without considering the environmental impact. Every agency must comply with NEPA regulations.

U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) long pushed for NEPA reform. In a 2013 statement, he pointed out that NEPA “has provided the foundation for countless improvements in our environmental laws,” giving us “cleaner water, cleaner air, and a safer and healthier environment.”

The critics of NEPA claim it is inefficient and delays projects. However, a 2022 study found that a “less rigorous level of analysis often fails to deliver faster decisions.” The study also found that delays “are often caused by factors only tangentially related to the Act, like inadequate agency budgets, staff turnover delays receiving information from permit applicants, and compliance with other laws.”

The Proposed Rule Furthers Biden’s Climate Change Goals

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated in its Sixth Assessment report that “deep, rapid, and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions would lead to a discernible slowdown in global warming within around two decades.” The Biden administration set goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent from 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050. The administration also set a goal of achieving 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035.

The goals are achievable, according to studies. One study stated, “There is a growing consensus among experts and practitioners that achieving 80 percent clean electricity by 2030 is technologically feasible without compromising reliability and affordability.”

Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman
Gina-Marie Cheeseman, freelance writer/journalist/copyeditor Twitter: @gmcheeseman

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