Senate votes in favor of axing Biden environmental review rule, but push faces uphill battle

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The Senate on Thursday voted in favor of reversing a Biden administration rule that sought to strengthen environmental reviews in a Republican-led push.

The legislation passed 50-47, with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) joining Republicans in voting for it.

Most Republican priorities are not brought to the Senate floor, as Democrats hold the majority. In fact, most partisan legislation is prevented by the filibuster, which blocks most measures that cannot get 60 votes.

However, Thursday’s vote used a special process called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which is specifically used to undo regulations put forward by the federal government.

The CRA operates under different rules than a typical vote. A petition signed by just 30 senators can discharge a CRA resolution for Senate consideration. CRA resolutions are also not subject to a filibuster.

Yet, the resolution still faces an uphill battle, both in the House and at the White House. CRA resolutions also require the president’s signature, and President Biden is unlikely to sign a resolution undoing the actions of his own administration.

Often these resolutions are used to undo midnight regulations from prior administrations. Democrats used such measures in 2021 to undo three Trump-era rules.

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska.) introduced the resolution in mid-July with the co-sponsorship of every Senate Republican. The Alaska senator explicitly framed the resolution as an effort to put Senate Democrats on record.

“There won’t be any hiding from this vote. It will be very interesting to see who my Democratic colleagues stand with. I know who I stand for: the men and women who build our country,” he said in a statement last month.

The resolution comes as Manchin separately pushes for permitting reform changes that advocates fear could weaken the environmental review process in favor of speeding up infrastructure projects.

Manchin made a deal with Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to pass such measures in exchange for his support on a major climate and tax bill.

The resolution targets regulations passed by the Biden administration on the implementation of a law called the National Environmental Policy Act that governs environmental reviews.

The Biden changes in question restored some of the environmental protections that were eliminated during the Trump administration. This includes explicit requirements to consider a project’s indirect actions on a community and how a source of pollution may combine with other nearby sources to impact a community overall.

Despite the revolution’s slim chances of becoming law, environmental advocates were quick to condemn it.

“Today is a sad day for environmental justice communities and public voice,” Oxfam America Senior Climate Policy Advisor Russell Armstrong said in a statement. “Senator Manchin and his Republican allies prevailed in championing the proposal to use the broad sweeping powers of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to undermine federal agencies’ duties to review projects. This may have cumulative and devastating impacts for our climate.”

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