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White House council restores environmental protections curbed by Trump

The new Biden-era rule would strengthen the environmental review process for construction of new infrastructure, including pipelines and highways. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
1 of 5 | The new Biden-era rule would strengthen the environmental review process for construction of new infrastructure, including pipelines and highways. File Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

April 19 (UPI) -- President Joe Biden's administration announced Tuesday that it's finalized a rule to restore elements of an environmental law that former President Donald Trump rolled back to speed up approval for infrastructure projects.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality said the move will reverse changes made by Trump's administration in 2020 to the National Environmental Policy Act. Before 2020, the act required that federal agencies get public feedback and environmental analysis before proceeding with certain infrastructure projects, including highway and pipeline construction.

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Trump sought to limit those reviews, which he said slowed down infrastructure projects and cost hundreds of millions of dollars over the course of a decade.

Brenda Mallory, chairwoman of the White House environmental council, said the 2020 changes "sowed confusion" among federal agencies and the public.

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"Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict and help ensure that projects get built right the first time," she said in a statement Tuesday. "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."

President Donald Trump proposes environmental policy changes during a briefing at the White House on January 9, 2020 -- including a scaled back National Environmental Policy Act to speed up environmental impact statements and studies. File Photo by Alex Edelman/UPI

The Council on Environmental Quality said the new rule will make three changes to the 2020 law:

-- Restore the requirement that federal agencies evaluate all environmental impacts of their decisions.

-- Restore the full authority of agencies to work with communities to develop and analyze alternative approaches that could minimize environmental and public health impact.

-- Establish the NEPA regulations as a floor for environmental review standards that federal agencies should be meeting.

Earthjustice, a non-profit organization that litigates environmental issues, applauded Tuesday's announcement.

"Good NEPA process requires robust community engagement, rigorous analysis, and public disclosure, which leads to government accountability, better projects with more community buy-in, and less litigation," President Abigail Dillen said in a statement. "As we transition to a clean energy future, following NEPA can and must help us to advance equitable solutions, including resilient and innovative new infrastructure."

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The U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Global Energy Institute on Tuesday urged Biden's administration to reconsider making changes to NEPA, saying it will make it more difficult to lower gas prices, invest in clean energy and build modern infrastructure.

"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 that revert back to the broken 1978 NEPA review process," Marty Durbin, senior vice president of policy at the Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.

"Layering on more requirements in the Phase 1 rule announced today compounded by another more onerous set of Phase 2 requirements expected later this year will serve only to smother recent progress.

"With rapidly rising inflation, major supply chain disruptions and workforce shortages, the last thing our country needs is unnecessarily extensive and duplicative bureaucratic red tape and delayed project approvals."

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