The White House on Wednesday took the first step to restore federal regulations guiding environmental reviews of major infrastructure projects like highways and pipelines, which were scaled back by the Trump administration that sought to fast-track them.
The White House Council for Environmental Quality said it will restore key provisions of National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations that had been in place before the Trump administration overhauled the rules last year for the first time in decades.
The new rule proposed by the White House council would direct the agency to account for climate change and other indirect environmental impacts of a project; empower federal agencies to consider alternative designs or approaches for a company’s proposed projects and let agencies adopt reviews that go beyond council’s regulations.
“The basic community safeguards we are proposing to restore would help ensure that American infrastructure gets built right the first time,” said council Chair Brenda Mallory, who added that the changes can “reduce conflict and litigation” involved in the environmental review process.
Former President Donald Trump in 2020 revamped NEPA in an effort to fast track major projects like the now cancelled Keystone XL oil pipeline that he said got caught up in red tape and interfered with his focus on U.S. “energy dominance.”
His NEPA overhaul allowed federal agencies to exclude the climate impact of a project, making it easier for major fossil fuel projects to sail through the approval process and avoid legal challenges.
Trump’s rule also widened the categories of projects that can be excluded from NEPA altogether.
Over the last few years, federal courts had ruled that NEPA required the federal government to consider a project’s carbon footprint in decisions related to leasing public lands for drilling or building pipelines.
Senator Tom Carper, chair of the Senate environment and public works committee, said the council’s move was timely as the White House and Congress work to pass major infrastructure legislation that could result in a rush of new projects.
“At a time when we are on the precipice of passing a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure, the changes proposed today will improve certainty to avoid project slowdowns and litigation,” he said.
Environmental advocates said they will work with the White House council to ensure that NEPA reviews give a voice to communities that are affected by big infrastructure projects.
“We look forward to working with the Biden Administration to ensure this new rule prioritizes the input of frontline and historically marginalized communities, and to quickly restore all of NEPA’s essential protections,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, National Wildlife Federation Vice President of Environmental Justice.
Over the coming months, the council will work on the next phase of its changes to NEPA regulations, which will get into more detail about how local communities can participate in the environmental review process and factor in climate change impacts.
(Reporting by Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Aurora Ellis)
Panama, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic ask for U.S. help on migration
The presidents of panama, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic on Wednesday asked for U.S. assistance in stemming the flow of thousands of migrants crossing the dangerous jungles that divide Panama and Colombia as they make their way to the United States.
Panama’s President Laurentino Cortizo hosted a meeting with Costa Rica’s Carlos Alvarado Quesada and Dominican Republic’s Luis Abinader in Panama City on Wednesday, where they discussed the burgeoning migrant crisis.
Cortizo said that so far this year a record number of more than 100,000 undocumented migrants have trekked north from Colombia through the Darien Gap, a lawless jungle teeming with everything from deadly snakes to anti-government guerrillas.
The United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said earlier this month that some 19,000 migrant children have crossed the Darien Gap so far in 2021, almost three times higher than the total for the previous five years.
Cortizo said the situation demands concrete solutions and that Washington should play an active role in assisting.
The Latin American leaders agreed “that our foreign ministers urgently articulate with the U.S. authorities and other countries to … look for concrete measures,” he added.
The presidents discussed the possibility of establishing a strategy of investments and job creation in Haiti, home to many of the migrants.
Cortizo said that he is seeking a meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden during the United Nations’ COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
In early 2021, Panamanian authorities had warned of a possible crisis after opening the borders that had for months been closed because of the pandemic.
By September, the immigration authorities of the Central American nation reported a record number of 91,305 migrants who entered from neighboring Colombia. Of these, 56,676 were Haitians and 12,870 Cubans.
(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Writing by Anthony Esposito Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)
Coronavirus: What's happening in Canada and around the world on Wednesday – CBC.ca
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday authorized booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, and said Americans can choose a shot that is different than their original inoculation.
The decision paves the way for millions more people in the United States to get the additional protection with the highly contagious delta variant of the coronavirus causing breakthrough infections among some who are fully vaccinated.
The agency previously authorized boosters of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months after the first round of shots to increase protection for people aged 65 and older, those at risk of severe disease and those who are exposed to the virus through their work.
Last week, an advisory panel to the FDA voted to recommend a third round of shots of the Moderna vaccine for the same groups.
The panel also recommended a second shot of the J&J vaccine for all recipients of the one-dose inoculation at least two months after receiving their first.
The FDA and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) were under some pressure to authorize the additional shots after the White House announced plans in August for a widespread booster campaign.
The advisory panel meeting included a presentation of data on mixing vaccines from a U.S. National Institutes of Health study in which 458 participants received some combination of Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and J&J shots.
The data showed that people who initially got J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine had a stronger immune response when boosted with either the Pfizer or Moderna shot, and that “mixing and matching” booster shots of different types was safe in adults.
Many countries including Canada and the U.K. have backed mix-and-match strategies for the widely-used AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine, which is not authorized in the United States but is based on similar viral vector technology as J&J’s vaccine.
Reuters reported in June that infectious disease experts were weighing the need for booster shots of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine after the J&J shot.
A CDC advisory committee on Thursday will make its recommendations about which groups of people should get the Moderna and J&J boosters, which the agency’s director will use to inform her final decision.
About 11.2 million people have so far received a booster dose, according to data from the CDC.
What’s happening in Canada
- Pandemic restriction opponents line up behind Manitoba PC leadership hopeful.
- Some unvaccinated municipal workers in northeastern Ontario sent home.
- N.L. sees 9 cases as officials make tweaks to fix vaccine passport issues.
What’s happening around the world
As of Wednesday, more than 241.6 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to the latest figures posted by Johns Hopkins University. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.9 million, according to the U.S-based university’s coronavirus tracker.
In Europe, Russia will shut workplaces for a week, Latvia went back into lockdown for a month and Romanian funeral homes are running out of coffins, as vaccine-skeptic ex-communist countries face record highs of infections and deaths.
In Africa, Kenya lifted a nationwide curfew on Wednesday that has been in place since March 2020 to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
In the Americas, 41 per cent of people across Latin America and the Caribbean have now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the Pan American Health Organization said.
In Asia, China reported a fourth day of new, locally transmitted cases in a handful of cities across the country, spurring local governments to double down on efforts to track potential carriers amid the zero-tolerance policy.
N.Korea says U.S. overreacting over submarine missile test
This week’s test of a new ballistic missile from a submarine was part of North Korea’s mid- and long-term plan to bolster self defense and was and not aimed at the United States or any other country, an unnamed spokesperson at Pyongyang’s foreign ministry said, according to the official KCNA news agency.
Washington had taken “overly provocative moves” by calling the test a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions and a threat to regional peace and stability, the spokesperson said.
The Security Council met on Wednesday over the launch at the request of the United States and Britain, and the U.S. envoy urged Pyongyang to accept offers of talks, reiterating that Washington has no hostile intent toward it.
The foreign ministry spokesperson said the United States’ “double standards” over missile development cast doubt over its overtures.
“It is a clear double standard that the United States denounces us for developing and testing the same weapons system it already has or was developing, and that only adds suspicions to their sincerity after saying they have no hostility towards us,” the spokesperson said in a statement carried by KCNA.
The United States and the council could face “more grave and serious consequences” if they opted for wrong behaviour, the spokesperson said, warning against “fiddling with a time bomb.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; editing by Richard Pullin)
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