FILE PHOTO - Brenda Mallory

White House restores rule requiring stringent environmental review

By Valerie Volcovici

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House announced on Tuesday that it has finalized regulations guiding environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects like highways and pipelines that would consider their climate impacts and other factors.

The White House Council for Environmental Quality has now officially restored key provisions of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations that had been in place before the Trump administration overhauled the rules last year for the first time in decades.

The change will require federal agencies to consider the “direct,” “indirect,” and “cumulative” impacts of proposed projects or actions, including a full evaluation of climate change impacts and assessment of the impact of releasing additional pollution in communities that are already choked by polluted air or dirty water.

“Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict, and help ensure that projects get built right the first time,” said CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory.

In addition to requiring an analysis of climate impacts, the final rule empowers federal agencies to consider alternative designs or approaches for a company’s proposed projects and allows agencies to adopt reviews that are more stringent than CEQ’s regulations.

The council also announced on Tuesday that it plans to propose a “phase 2” NEPA rulemaking in the coming months that will improve the efficiency of the review processes.

Former President Donald Trump in 2020 revamped NEPA in an effort to fast-track major projects like the now-cancelled Keystone XL oil pipeline that he said got caught up in red tape and interfered with his focus on U.S. “energy dominance.”

His NEPA overhaul allowed federal agencies to exclude the climate impact of a project, allowing major fossil fuel projects to sail through the approval process and avoid legal challenges.

Over the last few years, however, federal courts had ruled that NEPA required the federal government to consider a project’s carbon footprint in decisions relating to leasing public lands for drilling or building pipelines.

(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Bernadette Baum)