EPA hastens end-of-administration NEPA overhaul

By Kelsey Brugger | 12/04/2020 01:14 PM EST

The White House's regulatory review shop will now review the National Environmental Policy Act rules.

The White House's regulatory review shop will now review the National Environmental Policy Act rules. Francis Chung/E&E News

EPA sent its National Environmental Policy Act rules to the White House regulatory review shop — the latest indication the Trump administration is trying to shore up regulatory changes before leaving office.

Overhauling the NEPA rules has been a centerpiece of the Trump administration’s quest for energy dominance. Earlier this year, the Council on Environmental Quality finalized its NEPA rewrite and directed agencies by fall 2021 to align their environmental review practices with them.

In recent days, the Energy and Agriculture departments issued proposals that scale back their specific NEPA procedures (Energywire, Dec. 4).


Under NEPA, massive infrastructure projects like bridges and pipelines are subject to rigorous environmental review and public input. The Trump changes sped up the reviews and, critics alleged, sidelined Black and brown communities and low-income regions where polluting facilities are often sited.

The EPA procedures specifically affect wastewater treatment construction grants, pollution discharge permits, and certain research and development, according to the proposal.

This week’s action reveals that the Trump EPA is moving ahead faster than planned. According to the White House regulatory database, the EPA procedures were not expected to be issued until October 2021. By moving ahead with the EPA procedures now, the Trump team is potentially making it more cumbersome for the Biden administration to undo them.

In a statement, an EPA spokesperson noted the timeline outlined in the Unified Agenda is just an estimate and confirmed that the agency has submitted "its proposed conforming procedural updates consistent with the CEQ rule."

Already, the NEPA rules are being challenged by environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers in court.

Greens expect President-elect Joe Biden, who was critical of the CEQ rules when they were released in July, to repeal and replace them. His climate plan does not specifically mention NEPA, but it does stress environmental justice.