EYE ON THE ENVIRONMENT By: Frances Lamberts
In its last issue in April, the Science journal announced that “Biden resets environmental rules.” This referenced restoring the requirement in one of our foundational laws – the National Environmental Policy Act – under which federal agencies must assess the environmental impacts of federally funded, major activities such as pipelines, roads or other infrastructure projects. Its provision to review any longer-term climate harm from these had been revoked by the previous administration.
In a second set of NEPA guidelines revision, not yet completed, the Biden administration plans to restore, as well, Americans’ right to have a say, through public input, in such government decisions.
As the Berkeley Law School indicated in a study published in May, 2021, “the federal government executed at least 210 environmental rollbacks” under the previous administration. After its first 100 days in office, though, the Biden administration had initiated or completed restoring more than half of these. A similar report came from the Environ- mental Law School at Harvard which, likewise, had tracked the earlier weaken- ing of environmental and public-health protections. Many media reports since then have confirmed the trend, under the current administration, of restoring these.
It includes the U.S. rejoining the international effort toward climate protection through the Paris agreement, for example, and restoring an Environ- mental Protection Agency regulation under which significant greenhouse gas emissions from industry sources must be reported. An EPA data base on cli- mate change, excised earlier, is among more than 15 rollback-reversals relating to air pollution and green- house gas emissions. Some crucial permits threatening more climate-harming pollution – the Keystone XL pipeline, drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wild- life Refuge, and a copper-and-gold mine threatening Alaska’s wild salmon runs – were revoked or denied. Downstream emissions from pipeline sources are to be included again in their environmental cost analysis. Restored mini- mum property standards for flooding-hazard expo- sure in building will better protect homeowners from increased extreme-weather flooding risks.
The public lands, with enormous opportunities and responsibilities in recreation, conservation, species preservation and climate stability have seen these restored in three national monuments, and in protection for migratory birds.
Several rollbacks in the government’s longstanding Energy Conservation Pro- gram, which sets efficiency standards for appliances, consumer products and industrial equipment have been reversed, such as the recently announced incandescent-light-bulb phase-out.
Two dangerous pesticides linked to harm in children’s development, food-crop workers and pollinating insects have been banned.
One might say that under the present national administration the Earth (and we) can breathe easier again.