White House Finishes First Phase of Restorations to NEPA, America’s Foundational Environmental Law

April 19, 2022
Sharyn Stein, 202-905-5718, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – April 19, 2022) The Biden administration has finished the first phase of its efforts to restore and strengthen America’s foundational environmental law.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality today unveiled its final guidelines for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), based on extensive public input. NEPA has been in effect for more than half a century, but the previous administration tried to severely weaken its protections.

“NEPA has been the foundation of our environmental laws since 1970. It ensures that the federal government carefully considers environmental impacts of industrial projects and that communities have a voice in what gets built in their neighborhood. Communities of color, especially, have relied on NEPA to make sure their voices are heard in decisions that have a profound impact on their health and their well-being,” said Rosalie Winn, senior attorney for Environmental Defense Fund. “Today’s action reestablishes essential NEPA safeguards and ensures they will continue to protect people and communities today and future generations. It’s a key step toward ensuring that the federal government is fully considering climate and environmental justice impacts for industrial projects and other decisions.”

NEPA requires federal agencies to consider the environmental effects of large industrial projects including oil and gas wells, coal mines, and other federal decisions. The previous administration tried to dramatically limit how the federal government assesses the environmental effects of its policies, including attempting to prevent agencies from considering climate impacts. That action was challenged in court by a coalition of environmental justice, outdoor recreation and conservation groups, including Environmental Defense Fund.

Today’s action by the Biden administration restores the full consideration of the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of federal actions under NEPA, once again requiring the government to assess impacts on climate change and environmental injustice. The rule also requires consideration of the public interest when assessing the purpose and need for federal action, and it removes barriers to more comprehensive analysis by individual agencies.

Today’s action finishes Phase 1 of the Biden administration’s review of the earlier changes to NEPA. The administration has also committed to continuing to review the last administration’s actions and to strengthen NEPA in Phase 2 of its review process.

“NEPA is a floor for environmental protections, not a ceiling,” said Winn. “We must take more steps to fully embed climate and environmental justice into all federal decision making. We look forward to the administration’s continuing work to strengthen NEPA and empower frontline communities.”

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