In January, President Biden signed executive orders specifically charging federal agencies to focus on environmental regulations, climate change, and environmental justice. In the intervening weeks, the agencies have begun implementing those directives. We are seeing incremental steps taken as the nominees to head these agencies move through the confirmation process. The Senate just confirmed Michael Regan’s appointment to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and hearings for other nominees have recently happened or are being scheduled. Agency activity is expected to increase as more appointed officials take the lead.
President Biden ordered a regulatory review from the prior four years to identify where existing policies do not align with the new administration’s goals and requested agencies to begin addressing them. Action on individual rules will be on a case by case basis. The agencies also have begun reviewing recently finalized or proposed regulations that were initially frozen by the incoming administration. For example, the agencies released the Multi-Sector General Permit for industrial stormwater discharges, but they decided to delay and accept comment on changing the reforms to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. They also finalized the Trump Administration’s regulatory determinations for perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFOS), meaning new national primary drinking water regulations are coming.
President Biden also called for an “all of government” approach to climate and environmental justice---meaning it should factor into rules, permits, and other decision making. The agencies are to address sector specific greenhouse gas emissions, social cost of carbon, and lead through example with federal sustainability requirements. He also paused new oil and natural gas leases on federal lands and then rescinded the permit for the Keystone Pipeline. The Biden Administration also has rescinded the “One Federal Decision” policy that was intended to streamline federal environmental reviews and approvals. The White House also removed the Trump Administration’s draft guidelines on factoring climate issues into the environmental review and approval process and instead directed agencies to use the Obama era guidelines. The administration also recently decided to revert back to Obama’s social cost of carbon as an interim measure while they move forward on developing a new method for evaluating those costs in the rulemaking process.
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