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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

President Joe Biden

Washington (AFP) - The administration of President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced it would restore safeguards in a cornerstone environmental law weakened under Donald Trump -- including a duty to assess the climate impacts of proposed infrastructure projects.

The changes concern the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which was enacted by Congress in 1969. Rules about how it was applied were tweaked in 2020 by the then Republican president, an ardent supporter of the fossil fuel industry.

"Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict, and help ensure that projects get built right the first time," said White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) chair Brenda Mallory in a statement.

"Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient, and provide greater benefits to people who live nearby."

The restorations include a requirement that federal agencies evaluate both the direct and indirect impacts of projects, including by assessing climate change impacts and the consequences of releasing additional pollution in communities already affected by air pollution and dirty water.

It will also allow agencies to work once more with local communities to devise alternate plans to minimize environmental and health harm, and establish NEPA regulations as the floor, rather than the ceiling, for environmental review standards -- paving the way for stricter measures if needed.

The White House said it was also working to further broaden the scope of NEPA and would announce more changes soon.

Reacting to the announcement, Leslie Fields of the environmental group Sierra Club said: "We are encouraged to see the Biden administration take action to restore this bedrock environmental protection.

"NEPA plays a critical role in keeping our communities and our environment healthy and safe, and Donald Trump's attempts to weaken NEPA were clearly nothing more than a handout to corporate polluters."

The move comes days after the Biden administration was slammed by critics for announcing a resumption of oil and gas leasing on public lands, violating the Democrat's campaign promise.

On Friday, the interior department said it would post notices "for significantly reformed onshore lease sales" across roughly 144,000 acres of land.

Experts say steering clear of new fossil fuel projects is vital to meet the goal of limiting long term warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and averting a climate catastrophe.

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Rep. Tony Gonzales

Photo by CQ/Roll Call

The Republican House member who represents Uvalde, Texas, where 19 kids and 2 adults were shot to death in an elementary school on Tuesday, has said in the past that he will vote against any gun safety legislation in Congress.

In September 2021, Rep. Tony Gonzales tweeted in response to a provision on firearms included in that year's annual defense spending bill, "I will fight against any attempt to restrict our 2nd Amendment right, which is why I joined in urging the stripping of red flag laws from the final version of the bill." Gonzales was one of 161 Republican House members who signed a letter to the leadership of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in October of that year urging that the provision be removed.

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Beto O'Rourke, back to camera, confronts state officials over Uvalde school shooting at press conference

Not long after Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and his entourage showed up on a stage in Uvalde, Texas, to offer the usual thoughts and prayers that follow a gun massacre, Democratic rival Beto O'Rourke suddenly strode up to confront him.

Pointing a finger at the governor, he yelled: "You're offering us nothing!"

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