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The White House announced Tuesday that it has restored key protections of a landmark environmental law governing the construction of pipelines, highways and other projects that President Donald Trump swept aside as part of an effort to reduce bureaucracy.

The new rule will require federal agencies to review the climate impacts of major infrastructure projects under the National Environmental Policy Act, a 1970 law that required the government to assess the environmental consequences of federal actions, such as approving construction of oil and gas pipelines.

In 2020, Trump introduced major changes to the implementation of the law, saying the government would exempt many projects from review and speed up the approval process. His administration also said federal agencies would not consider “indirect” climate impacts. Trump and his business allies said the move would reinvigorate infrastructure projects across the country.

Under the rule finalized by the White House Biden this week, regulators will now have to report on how government actions may increase greenhouse gas emissions and whether they will impose new burdens on communities, particularly communities. poor and minority neighborhoods, which have already faced disproportionate amounts of pollution.

The move underscores how President Biden is looking for ways to advance his climate agenda despite growing concerns about rising costs to the economy. Triggered by court order and under pressure to increase energy supplies, his administration announced on Friday that it would resume issuing oil and gas leases, disappointing climate activists. The administration is also working to implement a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill passed last fall.

Business groups and Republicans will likely argue Tuesday’s decision will drive up costs and slow construction, but White House officials have insisted that won’t be the case.

“Fixing these loopholes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient and provide greater benefits to people who live nearby,” said Brenda Mallory, House Council Chair. Blanche on the quality of the environment, in a press release.

Trump-era changes have made it harder for environmental and community activists to challenge federal infrastructure projects, limiting public scrutiny of the building of roads, bridges and power plants — and freeing up government agencies. obligation to examine all the ways in which projects could affect climate change.

Trump said he was cutting “mountains and mountains of bureaucratic red tape”, saving millions of dollars and jump-starting the economy.

Now the Biden administration is telling agencies to consider the “direct”, “indirect” and “cumulative” impacts of their actions. The new rule will also give agencies greater leeway to consider alternatives that are less harmful to the environment and develop their own stricter procedures for environmental assessments. The White House proposed the changes in October and promises a second phase of NEPA regulations in the “coming months.”

When Biden took office, many of his environmental allies pushed for the president to reinvigorate the law. The statute is considered one of the most important environmental laws in the country, widely imitated by other countries.

Its teeth lie in its requirement that federal agencies conduct environmental reviews and consult with the public before proceeding. Black and Latino communities in the United States who have suffered disproportionately from poor air quality and industrial pollution have used the law to secure significant changes in projects that would have further harmed their neighborhoods.

Tracking Biden’s Environmental Actions

Other conservationists have used the law in court to block logging, mining and oil drilling. Among the projects blocked by NEPA was the canceled Keystone XL pipeline, which sparked waves of protests and litigation from those concerned about climate change and water pollution from leaks. The company behind the project canceled it after Biden rescinded a crucial permit.

Revising the law has long been a priority for Republican lawmakers and industry groups representing oil and gas companies, logging interests and construction companies. For them, NEPA epitomizes delays, cost overruns and legal battles. They accused environmentalists of weaponizing the law to defeat projects they oppose.

For environmentalists, the final rule is a bright spot after a dark winter for Biden’s climate agenda.

About $555 billion in proposed climate action has been stalled in Congress since last winter, when a lack of support from Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.) derailed the US spending bill. democrats. With Congress taking little action on climate change, the administration has focused on using the president’s executive authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

But a forthcoming Supreme Court decision in West Virginia vs. EPA, a case that will go to trial this year, could frustrate the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to steer the United States toward cleaner energy sources. And since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine sent oil prices soaring, Biden has faced an additional challenge: an emboldened fossil fuel industry calling for expanded drilling on federal lands. Pressure to lower gas prices has prompted the president, who has campaigned on fighting climate change, to encourage more domestic oil and gas production.

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