President Joe Biden

President Joe Biden’s administration rolled out its vaccinate mandate for the private sector Nov. 4.

The White House says it will repeal the Trump administration's changes to the National Environmental Policy Act and give federal agencies more discretion to stop projects.

Agencies will be able to write their own stricter NEPA rules, deny proposals based on climate change predictions and no longer will have to consider a project's goals in judging its environmental effects.

The Biden administration said it was "tackling the climate crisis and confronting environmental justice" and "listening to the science."

Brenda Mallory, chairwoman of the Council on Environmental Quality, an office in the White House, said in a statement that people living near projects will benefit.

"Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help reduce conflict and litigation and help clear up some of the uncertainty that the previous administration's rule caused," she said.

Washington Farm Bureau CEO John Stuhlmiller said the Biden changes will put national and global concerns over local customs and interests, and create more uncertainty about the regulations.

"This bodes ill for anyone who has a project going forward," Stuhlmiller said.

Farm groups supported Trump's reforms, enacted in his last year in office. President Biden last spring ordered agencies to not implement the reforms, pending a review by his administration.

The Justice Department asked federal judges to hold off ruling on lawsuits filed by environmental organizations and nearly two dozen states, including Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California.

The American Farm Bureau, National Cattlemen's Beef Association and American Forest Resources Council were among the organizations that intervened in the suits to defend Trump's reforms.

The groups argued that NEPA had become an obstacle to ranching, farming, logging and other activities. Environmental groups have used NEPA to oppose livestock on federal land.

Environmental groups anticipated Trump's NEPA reforms would be repealed when Biden took office.

The Trump administration made "a sham of the NEPA process," said Mustafa Santiago Ali, National Wildlife Federation vice president of environmental justice, climate and community revitalization.

"This proposed rule will help restore several foundational NEPA protections that were stripped away by the previous administration," he said in a statement.

The Biden administration planned to publish its NEPA proposals Thursday in the Federal Register, opening a 45-day comment period. The White House said it will have "Phase 2" NEPA changes later.

Stuhlmiller said Phase 1 changes go beyond restoring pre-Trump NEPA rules.

"It sets the stage for more," he said. "By this action, they just undid the awesome gains we had." 

Federal agencies will be able to have NEPA rules that go "beyond those specified" by the Council on Environmental Quality to "align with their unique missions or circumstances."

Agencies will be able to speculate on environmental effects, "even if the pollution is remote in time or geographically remote from a proposed action," according to the Federal Register notice.

Agencies also could prioritize long-term indirect benefits over short-term direct damage. Solar panels that immediately harm land might cut fossil fuel use in the long term, according to the administration.

The Biden administration will strip NEPA regulations of language that based the need for environmental impact statements on the project's goals and the agency's authority.

The administration cited concerns that the language gave "undue deference to applicants." References to an agency's legal authority was "unnecessary and confusing," according to the administration.  

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