Haaland seeks to bolster environmental law targeted by Trump

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Interior Secretary Deb Haaland on Friday issued an order aimed at bolstering implementation of a key environmental law, seeking to work around rollbacks from the former Trump administration.

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Haaland’s order states that Interior bureaus and offices should not apply 2020 changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) “in a manner that would change the application or level of NEPA that would have been applied to a proposed action before the 2020 Rule went into effect.”

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The secretarial order states that in instances where the department’s regulations “irreconcilably conflict” with the Trump-era changes, the issue should be brought to both the relevant assistant secretary within the department and to the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality.

NEPA requires environmental analyses ahead of projects such as pipelines, highways and drilling or other major actions on public lands.

The Trump administration sought to weaken the law by reducing the required time for reviews from about 4 1/2 years to two years and removing requirements to consider effects on climate change.

It also complicated the process for communities to weigh in and allowed for more industry involvement in the process.

The Trump administration billed its changes as helping to streamline the process to expedite infrastructure.

Haaland’s new order specified that the department should use “appropriate tools, methodologies, and resources available” to weigh a proposed action’s impacts on greenhouse gas emissions.

It also said that the administration should “proactively begin consultation with potentially impacted Tribes” and “engage potentially impacted environmental justice communities early in the project planning process” when reviewing a proposal’s environmental impacts.

Haaland’s order also sets up a “Departmental Climate Task Force” with the goals of creating a strategy to reduce climate pollution, improve resilience to climate change, address environmental injustice, project public health and conserve lands.

The task force’s jobs will include identifying new policies or revisions to existing policies that are needed and implementing the department’s “review and reconsideration” of its oil and gas permitting practices.

“From day one, President Biden was clear that we must take a whole-of-government approach to tackle the climate crisis, strengthen the economy, and address environmental justice,” Haaland said in a statement Friday.

“At the Department of the Interior, I believe we have a unique opportunity to make our communities more resilient to climate change and to help lead the transition to a clean energy economy. These steps will align the Interior Department with the President’s priorities and better position the team to be a part of the climate solution,” she added.

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