Biden Administration Restores NEPA Regulations Critical to Battle Against Climate Change

Photo by Doug Dance

Washington, DCThe White House Council on Environmental Quality released today its final phase II rule updating regulations that implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), our country’s basic charter for the protection of the environment. This is the final rule in a multi-phased process to restore this foundational law, which was dramatically weakened in 2020 under the Trump administration.

The new regulations require federal agencies conducting NEPA analyses of proposed projects to consider their ramifications for threatened and endangered species and habitat, climate change, and environmental justice, while also requiring meaningful consultation with impacted communities, including Native American tribes.  

NEPA was passed by Congress in 1969 with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed into law by President Nixon in 1970. Congress enacted the law to “promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere” to “fulfill the responsibility of each generation as trustee of the environment for succeeding generations.” Over 50 years later, it still stands as one of the most important environmental laws in the United States.

The three basic principles of NEPA are informed decision-making, transparency, and public input. The law requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of projects—such as new power plants, highways, oil and gas development, and logging—and to explore alternative approaches to achieving their objectives. It also provides opportunities for communities across the country to voice their concerns about how these proposals may threaten public health and ecosystems. AWI routinely relies on this law to provide input on administrative rulemaking and engage in litigation involving wildlife management.

“Climate change presents an existential threat to tens of thousands of species,” said Johanna Hamburger, director and senior attorney of AWI’s terrestrial wildlife program. “Courts have consistently held that federal agencies are obligated to examine a project’s impact on climate change. We are grateful that the Biden administration’s new regulations codify this obligation and provide clear direction on how agencies must evaluate climate impacts during the NEPA process.”

In July 2020, the Trump administration finalized its NEPA overhaul, enacting new regulations that were inconsistent with both the letter and spirit of the law. Unprecedented in significance and scope, these changes undermined informed agency decision-making, reduced transparency, and limited critical public involvement, denying the public the democratic process at the heart of the law. Decisions on certain projects would have been able to move forward without full consideration of their environmental impacts and without a requirement that a broad range of safer, more ecologically sound alternatives be considered. AWI strongly opposed the changes, submitting comments on two rounds of notices and testifying at two public hearings. 

The Biden administration’s new regulations reinstate informed agency decision-making, transparency, and public involvement to their rightful places in the NEPA process. The regulations enhance certainty for regulated industries and the public by restoring consistency with decades of regulatory language, case law, and policies. This facilitates a predictable, effective, and inclusive process that allows the public to fully raise concerns about destruction of wildlife habitat and loss of biodiversity, declines in air and water quality, and harm to public health, particularly in communities of color, which for decades have disproportionately shouldered the burden of toxic pollution in their neighborhoods.

Media Contact Information

Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
(202) 446-2128, [email protected]

The Animal Welfare Institute is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere: in agriculture, in commerce, in our communities, in research, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.