Hillel Aron

(CN) — Twenty states, including Montana, Texas and Florida, sued a federal agency Tuesday over a series of regulatory reforms to the National Environmental Policy Act, finalized this month by the Biden administration and set to go into effect on July 1.

The states — nearly all considered "red states" in that they tend to elect Republicans — say in their suit that the "problematic" policy changes include the "elevation of atextual environmental justice and climate change considerations," the "politically motivated fast-tracking favored projects" and the "creation of new mitigation obligations."

They say the proposed changes create an "open-ended obligation and impossible-to-meet standard" that will lead to delays and cost overruns in federally-funded infrastructure projects.

Signed into law in 1969 by President Richard Nixon, the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, requires every federal agency — not including Congress or the courts — to evaluate the environmental effects of all their decisions. Agencies must prepare reports, or environmental impact statements, for all new policies and regulations, evaluating the environmental impact and discussing possible alternatives. This includes infrastructure projects but also regulations.

In 2020, the agency in charge of NEPA, the President's Council on Environmental Quality (or CEQ), under then-President Donald Trump, published a set of changes to the law in the attempt to modernize, clarify and simplify the often byzantine regulations. When Joe Biden took office, CEQ changed course, and started working on its own set of reforms. It came out with Phase 1 of those changes in 2022; Phase 2 was published on May 1 of this year.

In a press release touting the new reforms, the Biden administration said they would "accelerate America's clean energy future" and "simplify the process to rebuild our nation's infrastructure." They would also "advance environmental justice and promote meaningful public input." The changes would direct agencies "to avoid or reduce disproportionate effects on communities, including the cumulative impacts of pollution."

On top of all that, the NEPA changes ordered agencies to "consider the effects of climate change in environmental reviews and encourage identification of reasonable alternatives that will mitigate climate impacts."

In their lawsuit, filed in federal court, the 20 states say the Biden administration's reforms fundamentally change NEPA from a law about procedure to one far more focused on substance, imposing on agencies the need to find ways to mitigate environmental impacts.

"The new requirements immediately add new delays to the NEPA process," the states say in their complaint, "and further frustrate the goals of... recent federal laws... aimed at timely delivery of needed infrastructure."

The suit goes on to list more than a dozen infrastructure projects that could be delayed by the new Biden policies, including highways, bridges and airport improvements, as well as flood management systems.

They want the new rule vacated and for the Council on Environmental Quality to issue a new rule that conforms to NEPA.