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Biden reverses Trump’s rollbacks to key environmental law

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President Joe Biden is reversing rollbacks made by former president Donald Trump to environmental reviews that accompany infrastructure projects like highways and bridges.

The Biden administration is revising how the National Environmental Policy Act is implemented.

President Trump overhauled the act, known as NEPA, in 2020. The Nixon-era legisation is one of the country’s landmark environmental laws which low-income and minority communities have used for decades to fight back against potential polluters.

On Tuesday, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced it was restoring three elements of NEPA which include “a reaffirmation that Federal agencies must evaluate all relevant environmental impacts – including those associated with climate change – during environmental reviews”.

“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.

“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.”

Before changes made by the Trump administration, NEPA instructed federal agencies to take into account environmental impacts before signing off on infrastructure projects, and sought public comment before issuing permits.

The changes by the last administration limited public input and set strict deadlines of up to two years to complete environmental studies.

It also allowed federal agencies to rule out environmental assessments on some projects entirely, and void considerations of how infrastructure plans would impact the climate crisis.

The rule also meant that the “cumulative” effects of a project on the environment would no longer be considered, and it would be reviewed in a silo from existing polluting forces in an area.

NEPA has given environmental activists and communities the opportunity to challenge projects, often mounting legal battles.

The Standing Rock Sioux tribe used NEPA to mount a legal challenge against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). In the Atlantic coastal town of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, residents used NEPA’s safeguards to halt a waste-to-energy incinerator from operating in an area which already suffers contamination from heavy metals.

Minority and low-income communities disproportionately bear the brunt of pollution and the climate emergency.

Some 68 per cent of Black households and more than a third of Latinos live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, according to GreenAmerica.org, making them more likely to suffer health impacts of pollution like breathing issues and heart conditions.

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