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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Utah advocacy group applauds strengthening country's environmental protection law

A photo of an oil pump into front of a sunset background.
Restored environmental review law could help Utahns know more about how some projects may impact climate change.

The Biden administration announced changes Wednesday to the country’s long-standing environmental review law, reinstating protections rolled back during the Trump presidency.

The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to study the environmental impacts of a project before deciding to do it. John Ruple, a law professor at the University of Utah, called NEPA the “magna carta of environmental law.”

He said Biden’s move is the first step in clearing up confusion created by the Trump administration.

“This new rule making process will benefit the citizens of Utah by clarifying their opportunity to learn about federal decisions before those decisions are made and to engage in ways that can help shape that federal agency action,” Ruple said.

One change will bring back requirements to evaluate the impacts a project would have on climate change. Steve Bloch, the legal director at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said this will help agencies be “clear eyed” about the impacts of fossil fuel activities in the state.

“I feel like it's trying to bring NEPA back to its original purpose, which is to really emphasize the precautionary principle of thinking first and then acting,” Bloch said. “[Agencies] shouldn't be jumping off the cliff and then thinking about mid fall about, ‘Oh, I wonder what's going to happen now that I've done this.’”

Bloch said he doesn’t know of any projects in Utah that are being considered under the previous administration’s guidelines, but if NEPA wasn’t reverted back, he said there were going to be negative impacts.

“When you have a state like Utah where the federal government and the American public are the owners of so much land that’s within our state's boundaries, [Trump-era] changes to these rules are going to have ... some really severe negative consequences, and now I think the Biden administration is righting the ship,” Bloch said.

The announced changes are the first step the Biden administration plans to take related to NEPA. The first phase of proposed changes are open to public comment until Nov. 22.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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