By Nick Goldstein, vice president of regulatory and legal issues, ARTBA

President Joe Biden initiated a series of regulatory actions shortly after taking office that reversed a number of Trump administration policies and advanced familiar themes he articulated throughout his campaign and inaugural speech. As expected, his Jan. 20 executive orders (EOs) covered areas including climate change, equity for underserved communities, and the COVID-19 pandemic. Specific actions resulting from these directives to federal agencies include:

  • A “regulatory freeze,” which halts agency activity until the Biden administration can install its appointees. This is a common occurrence when administrations change. In practical terms, this action stops agencies from moving forward on any proposed rules which have not yet been finalized. This includes the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (U.S. DOT) implementation of the updated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) modernization, which ARTBA supported;
  • Revocation of the Keystone XL pipeline’s federal permit. The project, if completed, would transport an estimated 83,000 barrels of oil per day from Canada to U.S. refineries. ARTBA and industry allies have supported the project, citing its potential for creating significant economic benefits, including much-needed jobs in the transportation construction sector; and
  • Repealing multiple Trump administration EOs that focused on deregulation, including the “One Federal Decision” EO shortening NEPA reviews to two years, and the “2 for 1” EO mandating that two rules be repealed for every one that is enacted.

Regulatory Reviews

Additionally, the EOs will start a review of dozens of federal regulations enacted by the Trump administration, including many supported by ARTBA, such as NEPA modernization, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (which replaced the Waters of the United States rule), reforms to the Endangered Species Act, and recent decisions to retain current Clean Air Act standards. While the results of this review are unknown, any changes made to these rules are subject to the public comment process.

The EOs also show how President Biden will incorporate his priorities into future rulemakings by asking agencies to “identify ways the regulatory process can promote public health and safety, economic growth, social welfare, racial justice, environmental stewardship, human dignity, equity, and the interests of future generations.” For transportation projects this could mean an increased focus on studying how proposed projects impact minority and other underserved communities.

In a related development, the Biden administration issued an EO Jan. 21 directing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to evaluate whether an emergency temporary standard (ETS) covering all employees and all industries is necessary to combat COVID-19. See ARTBA’s story.

ARTBA will evaluate all proposals from the new administration on their merits and continue to push for a regulatory environment that promotes efficient, safe and cost-effective delivery of transportation improvement projects.

PHOTO: Segment of the Keystone XL pipeline.