The Biden administration is further distancing itself from decisions in the Trump era on the implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act that if allowed to stand would have allowed federal regulators to ignore the impacts on climate change of proposed infrastructure projects under review.
As could be expected, Biden’s team is undoing that decision. “CEQ’s new climate change guidance recommends that agencies account for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in NEPA reviews,” as explained in a press release from the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and further details specifically push for using those calculations in assessing the climate change impacts. The guidance itself recommends “that agencies use projected GHG emissions associated with proposed actions and their reasonable alternatives to help assess potential climate change effects.”
The Trump administration’s decisions included undoing guidance issued towards the end of the Obama era on implementing these rules, and these measures from the Biden team replace those 2016 measures, per that White House council. The Biden team’s guidance features an emphasis on efficiency, including with what that release called a “rule of reason” in assessing a proposed project’s impacts. The initiative also proves ambitious, “clarifying the need to quantify indirect emissions, which will help projects avoid legal setbacks and provide transparency to help drive climate-smart decisions,” the council said. Previously, the Trump administration had moved to undo the need for federal agencies to consider what were specifically termed cumulative environmental impacts, including climate change-related.
Another key facet of the underlying law is involvement by the public. The Trump team’s moves limited the opportunity for public comment on infrastructure projects under consideration, implementing a presumably connected deadline of between one and two years for authorities to complete environmental reviews. “The rule will also allow agencies to develop categories of activities that do not require an environmental assessment at all,” The New York Times reported of the Trump admin’s planned moves, further sketching out the dramatic extent to which the then-president’s team was seeking to roll back opportunities for environmental protection. In contrast, the Biden admin’s new guidance for implementing these underlying review requirements pushes for engagement with communities and consideration of environmental justice concerns, which would include something like specially protecting a community previously subject to extreme levels of pollution.