National Environmental Policy Act regulations are gradually returning to their pre-Trump administration form with the Council on Environmental Quality’s publication of a final rule Tuesday.

The targeted rule, the first in a two-step process of reversing the Trump administration’s effort, makes three major changes, the White House said: It “restores the requirement that federal agencies evaluate all the relevant environmental impacts of the decisions they are making,” including the impacts of climate change.

It also “restores the full authority of agencies to work with communities to develop and analyze alternative approaches that could minimize environmental and public health costs” and “establishes CEQ’s NEPA regulations as a floor, rather than a ceiling, for the environmental review standards that federal agencies should be meeting.”

As expected, environmental groups were thrilled and ag groups had a less enthusiastic response. 

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the Public Lands Council, for example, immediately criticized the new regulations, predicting they would “stall important environmental projects, delay critical infrastructure improvements, and impede progress made as part of ongoing NEPA processes.” 

In comments submitted to CEQ last fall, the groups joined the American Sheep Industry Association in saying that NEPA had become too time-consuming and costly, even when analysis involved “routine assessments of projects with clear positive outcomes, including grazing permit renewals, range improvements, wildlife habitat restoration, fuels reduction treatments, and cooperative projects to improve ecosystem services.”

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The Environmental Defense Fund, however, emphasized that the rule “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.”

In the next phase of the rulemaking process, CEQ has said it plans to look more broadly at how to strengthen the law, which went into effect in 1970.

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