WASHINGTON — A resolution to repeal some federal environmental permitting regulations passed the Senate on Thursday after sustained efforts by Alaska Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan, although the measure is unlikely to take effect.
If it became law, the Sullivan-sponsored joint resolution would roll back some requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act that had been restored by President Joe Biden, limiting federal agencies’ ability to consider the potential climate impact of projects.
In a statement after the resolution passed, Sullivan said, “the Biden NEPA regulations are nothing more than a delay bomb for building infrastructure in this country.”
The resolution, which drew condemnation from environmental groups, passed the Senate 50-47 with support from all Republican senators and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. The vote was largely symbolic — the resolution would have to pass the Democrat-led House of Representatives and escape a near-certain presidential veto to become law.
Sullivan said the vote was intended to be a “simple test for all U.S. senators.” Despite Manchin being the only Democrat who supported it, Sullivan called its passage a “bipartisan victory.”
NEPA requires federal regulators to consider environmental impacts of infrastructure projects and allows for public comment. In April, the White House Council on Environmental Quality restored NEPA policies that had been eliminated during the Trump administration.
The so-called “Biden Rule” gives regulators leeway to determine the scope of environmental reviews. Republicans say the rule curtails development by mandating regulators weigh “direct,” “indirect” and “cumulative” project impacts, including those caused by climate change.
“The whole edifice of NEPA has exploded into something that it was never intended to be,” Sullivan said in an interview. “It’s giant, it’s unwieldy. The EIS’s take years that cost millions. And here’s the thing, the public is no longer engaged. You think the average citizen who cares about a project next to his house or in his neighborhood, is going to read a 5,000-page NEPA document? No.”
On Monday, 200 conservation groups had signed a letter condemning Sullivan’s resolution, calling Biden’s restoration of the NEPA policies “critically important to addressing the climate crisis and environmental justice.”
After the vote Thursday, Mary Olive, senior government relations representative at The Wilderness Society, said her reaction was “just disappointment, disappointment that the Senate would vote to undermine people’s rights like this, to undermine the right to have a say in what happens to their land and their neighborhoods.”
Sullivan has been advocating to pass his NEPA resolution for weeks, but the Thursday vote capitalized on current permitting reform talks happening on Capitol Hill.
Last week, Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., struck a deal on a $370 billion tax and climate package. As a part of negotiations, Democratic leaders agreed to pursue other legislation easing federal infrastructure permitting rules.
In a statement after voting in favor of the resolution Thursday, Manchin said he believes the permitting system is “broken” and “the Administration’s approach to permitting is dead wrong.” But he acknowledged “this legislation is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives.”
“That’s why I fought so hard to secure a commitment on bipartisan permitting reform, which is the only way we’re going to actually fix this problem. I hope every Republican that voted for this legislation today will support the bipartisan permitting reform bill when it comes before the Senate in September,” Manchin said.
Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, also voted in favor of the resolution, calling it “the right thing to do.”
Sullivan’s resolution is supported by Alaska labor unions and industry groups like the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. The senator cited support from 43 groups in a Tuesday statement.
“The recent revisions published by the Biden Administration will undo the commonsense reforms undertaken in 2020, and will delay approval and building of important projects,” AOGA said in a statement.