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May 12, 2022 12:11 PM, EDT

Sen. Carper Highlights Environmental Infrastructure Efforts

Tom Carper, Brenda MallorySen. Tom Carper by carper.senate.gov; Brenda Mallory by whitehouse.gov

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The top transportation policymaker in the U.S. Senate touted a White House agency’s role in enhancing the environmental permitting process and responding to climate change.

Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) pointed to the White House Council on Environmental Quality’s aim of promoting infrastructure projects’ resilience to severe weather events during the Biden administration.

“[Council on Environmental Quality] ensures that federal agencies work in harmony to protect our environment and improve public health, which is critical to creating a nurturing environment for job creation and preservation. With more than 8 million Americans back to work since President [Joe] Biden took office, it’s clear that CEQ’s urgent work is not stymieing economic growth,” Carper said May 11.

CEQ recently restored a requirement for federal agencies to evaluate relevant environmental impacts with regard to their decision-making. Additionally, it restored full authority of agencies to develop and analyze approaches meant to minimize environmental and public health costs. Guidelines pertaining to the permitting process fall under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA.

Added Carper: “CEQ also has been coordinating efforts across the federal government to improve the federal permitting process for clean energy technologies, such as carbon capture and sequestration.”

The Biden administration recently released a plan designed to accelerate federal permitting and environmental reviews via existing authorities. The plan would rely on an agency’s resources and environmental reviews. According to the White House: “Timely, informative environmental reviews that are guided by the best available science and help deliver positive environmental and community impact require sufficient levels of skilled agency staff and effective use of budgetary resources.”

Brenda Mallory, the Council on Environmental Quality’s chairwoman, emphasized for Carper’s committee her agency’s recent move on the permitting process. The recently enacted $1 trillion infrastructure law played a role in the decision-making. As she put it, her office’s directive “will restore clarity to the environmental review process by affirming that agencies need to assess direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of decisions and projects.”

“In addition to bringing the rule back to long-standing practice and procedures, our changes ensure the investments in the bipartisan infrastructure law can be made more efficiently and with the appropriate public engagement,” she added.

Republican policymakers, meanwhile, are pushing back on the White House’s recent move to restore NEPA provisions.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), EPW ranking member, insisted the White House’s position could decelerate the construction process for large-scale infrastructure projects. She told the CEQ leader: “I was interested that one of the quotes from your opening statement is ‘more building in the next few years.’ It appears laced through your action plans that you took on the NEPA action plan regulatory changes — where you’ve taken down three of the major provisions that the Trump administration put forward only sets up more regulations from different federal regulators.”

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Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), ranking member on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the Council on Environmental Quality’s action on NEPA “couldn’t come at a worse time.”

“Now the administration is moving backwards on much-needed, common-sense NEPA reforms, which will only delay important projects, drive up costs and further erode any value from the infrastructure law,” Graves said in a statement last month.

Under President Donald Trump, the NEPA review process was updated to reflect the acceleration of certain major infrastructure projects. At the time, senior Democrats pledged to undo the Trump-era NEPA changes.