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The Biden Administration Has Revived the People’s Environmental Law

What happened: The Biden administration has revitalized the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), also known as the people’s environmental law. The updates will ensure that critical infrastructure needed for the clean energy transition is built quickly, equitably, and is resilient to climate change.

The new updates reverse the Trump administration’s severe rollbacks of this bedrock law that favored polluting industries and restricted the public’s input on projects that could harm their health and livelihoods.

Why it matters: We need to rapidly build out our clean energy future in an equitable and efficient way. The Biden administration’s new updates to NEPA provide the framework we need to do this by improving the permitting process, incorporating climate concerns, and considering environmental justice impacts on communities.

Here’s what to know.

Restoring NEPA to its full strength

  • First – what is NEPA? The National Environmental Policy Act requires the federal government to review the health, economic, and environmental impacts of its decisions and disclose those impacts to the public. Most importantly, it is often the only opportunity local communities have to weigh in on major, potentially disruptive projects, like highways or a toxic waste incinerator.
  • The Biden administration reversed some of the worst impacts of former President Trump’s changes to NEPA. In 2020, former President Trump gutted NEPA by undermining the scope of the law’s applicability. This included limiting public participation and curtailing the ability of federal agencies to consider the climate and cumulative environmental impacts of major projects.
  • The new rule will accelerate project permitting and modernize NEPA to meet the challenges of the climate crisis, environmental injustice, and biodiversity loss. The Biden administration’s updates strengthen community participation and affirm the responsibility of federal agencies to consider climate change, health, and environmental impacts when making project decisions. The changes apply to over 80 agencies in the federal government.

NEPA gives people a voice in our clean energy future

  • NEPA recognizes that the concerns and voices of impacted communities are not ‘red tape’ to discard. When done correctly, a good NEPA analysis results in durable, more resilient projects. If communities are engaged from the start, it lessens the likelihood of conflict and costly litigation later.
  • NEPA is the bridge, not the barrier, to our clean energy future. At a time when we need to rapidly build out clean energy infrastructure, NEPA can ensure that the environmental injustices of the past aren’t repeated, sacrificing marginalized communities for the sake of reckless “growth.”
  • We’re thanking the Biden administration. These new changes will bring transparency and certainty to the new projects and their sponsors while giving communities a stronger voice.
A man in construction gear watches as a very larger turbine blade is lifted into place.
A crane lifts a wind turbine rotor onto a tower north of Abilene, Texas. (Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images)