Interior secretary tells staff to avoid Trump environmental regulations

April 19, 2021
Interior Secretary Haaland issued an order Apr. 16 to forbid bureaus and offices of the department from applying some of the current guidelines under the National Environmental Policy Act.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland issued an order Apr. 16 to forbid the bureaus and offices of the Interior Department from applying some of the current guidelines under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), whenever those guidelines differ from rules that predated the Trump administration.

The Trump administration completed its revamp of NEPA guidelines in July, and they took effect Sept. 14. President Biden has instructed the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to review those changes, possibly a prelude to revoking them.

NEPA environmental analyses are obligatory in a great many federal decisions on oil and gas leasing, exploration, and production on federal lands, and decisions on pipelines crossing federal lands.

The Trump administration attempted to expedite those decisions and reduce legal fights by revising the NEPA guidelines from CEQ. Interior agencies are expected to conform to those guidelines as they apply their regulations. But Haaland has other ideas, as laid out in her secretarial order No. 3399.

“Bureaus/Offices will not apply the 2020 Rule in a manner that would change the application or level of NEPA that would have been applied to a proposed action before the 2020 Rule went into effect,” Haaland’s order said.

Referring to Interior regulations predating the Trump administration’s NEPA changes, Haaland said, “If Bureaus/Offices believe that the Department’s NEPA regulations irreconcilably conflict with the 2020 rule, they will elevate issues to the relevant Assistant Secretary and to CEQ.”

Assistant secretaries are political appointees, as is the CEQ leader. The Senate confirmed Brenda Mallory as CEQ chair Apr. 14.

Haaland also used her executive order to push staff on applying greenhouse gas (GHG) calculations to their regulatory decisions.

Whenever they can, bureaus and offices should quantify projected GHG emissions from a proposed action and compare GHG quantities across alternatives, the order said. Calculations are to include the “social cost” of carbon, nitrous oxide, and methane, estimates in dollars of the long-term damage done by these gases in a given year, the order said.