WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 (Reuters) – The White House took the first step on Wednesday to restore federal regulations that guide environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects like highways and pipelines that the Trump administration has cut back to expedite them.
The White House Environmental Quality Council said it would restore key provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) provisions, which were in effect for the first time in decades prior to the Trump administration’s revision of the rules last year.
The new rule proposed by the White House Council would instruct the agency to take into account climate change and other indirect environmental impacts of a project; Empower federal agencies to examine alternative designs or approaches to a company’s proposed projects, and have agencies conduct reviews beyond what the council prescribes.
“The basic community safeguards we are proposing to restore would help America build infrastructure right the first time,” said Council Chair Brenda Mallory, who added the changes “reduce conflict and litigation.” related to the environmental assessment process.
Former President Donald Trump reshaped NEPA in 2020 to expedite major projects like the now-abandoned Keystone XL oil pipeline, which he said was embroiled in red tape and hampered his focus on “US energy dominance.”
Its NEPA revision allowed federal agencies to rule out a project’s climate impact, making it easier for large fossil fuel projects to go through the permit process and avoid legal challenges.
In recent years, federal courts had ruled that NEPA asked the federal government to consider a project’s carbon footprint when making decisions related to leasing public land for drilling or building pipelines.
Trump’s rule also expanded the categories of projects that can be excluded from NEPA altogether.
In the coming months, the Council will work on the next phase of its amendments to NEPA regulations, which will go into more detail on how local communities can participate in the environmental assessment process and take into account the effects of climate change.
Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Aurora Ellis
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