Phase 1 Restoration of NEPA Complete

This week the Biden Administration restored the basic environmental safeguards provided by the National Environmental Policy Act.

Photo by Adam Clark (@acpictures) of Pep Fujas (@pepfujas)

Great news for Earth Week 2022! The Biden administration announced this week that it has restored critical parts of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a bedrock environmental law.

What’s the backstory here?

Over the past two years, our #ProtectNEPA campaign with the American Alpine Club has allowed our Alliance to fight together for the future of the wild winter landscapes we know and love. Together, we sued the Trump administration for gutting NEPA in 2020 and then petitioned the Biden administration in 2021 to take action to restore these protections.

Last October, we shared the Biden administration officially announced they would be moving forward with Phase 1 of their plan to reverse the Trump Administration’s changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

This week, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published a final rule effectively restoring key pieces of NEPA, requiring that federal agencies:

  • Develop Purpose and Need statements, and alternatives, for proposed projects that go beyond the goals of the project proponent, to ensure that agencies have the flexibility to consider a variety of factors and are not prioritizing an applicant’s goals over factors, including the public interest;
  • Consider the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of a proposed project, including an analysis of the greenhouse gases that could be emitted over the lifetime of a proposed project and how climate change might affect the proposed project;
  • Give the public a greater voice in the environmental review process for projects on federal lands;
  • And allow federal agencies to write their own NEPA regulations that go beyond the “floor” established by CEQ’s Rule.
What does this mean?

The final rule announced on Tuesday, April 19, 2022, will take effect on May 20, 2022, and generally restores provisions that were in effect for decades before being gutted in 2020.

Brenda Mallory, CEQ Chairwoman, described the Phase 1 Rule as restoring basic community safeguards: “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,” she said in a statement.

What’s next?

Now, CEQ will tackle Phase 2 of restoring NEPA. Phase 2 rulemaking will consider broader changes to the 2020 NEPA regulations. CEQ’s goals with both the Phase 1 and Phase 2 NEPA rulemaking processes are to:

  • Meet environmental, climate change, and environmental justice objectives;
  • Ensure full and fair public involvement in the NEPA process;
  • Provide regulatory certainty to stakeholders;
  • And promote better decision making consistent with NEPA’s statutory requirements.

We’ll continue to keep you updated as NEPA’s restoration further devleops.

We’re seeing the fruits of our actions: thank you to everyone that fought with us! And thank you to our members for supporting our year-round work.