red tape

The CEQ announcement makes the point that advances in technology, changing economic conditions, and other factors justify updates to the policy. Spurred by an Executive Order (EO) signed by President Trump in August of last year, the review of NEPA is integral to the Administration’s vision of American energy dominance.

by Marjorie Haun

The federal Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is formulating a list of recommended changes to provisions in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that would streamline environmental regulations and speed up permitting and related processes. On June 20, the CEQ issued a summary on the Federal Register outlining its review of NEPA and asking for comments from citizens and stakeholders about what improvements are needed, and how to correct existing deficiencies in the policy.

There is a narrow window for the comments period, which closes July 20, 2018. In its summary, CEQ provides background on NEPA, which was enacted nearly five decades ago, and has undergone only one substantive amendment. The CEQ announcement makes the point that advances in technology, changing economic conditions, and other factors justify updates to the policy. Spurred by an Executive Order (EO) signed by President Trump in August of last year, the review of NEPA is integral to the Administration’s vision of American energy dominance. It says:

On August 15, 2017, President Trump issued E.O. 13807, ‘‘Establishing Discipline and Accountability in the Environmental Review and Permitting Process for Infrastructure Projects.’’ 82 FR 40463 (August 24, 2017). Section 5(e) of E.O. 13807 directed CEQ to develop an initial list of actions to enhance and modernize the Federal environmental review and authorization process. In response, CEQ published its initial list of actions pursuant to E.O. 13807 and stated that it intends to review its existing NEPA regulations in order to identify changes needed to update and clarify these regulations. 82 FR 43226 (September 14, 2017).

(emphasis added)

In asking for public comment on NEPA revisions, CEQ pinpoints 20 areas of concern, and poses questions to be addressed in comments. They are summarized below:

NEPA Process

1. Should CEQ’s NEPA regulations be revised to ensure that environmental reviews and authorization decisions involving multiple agencies are conducted in a manner that is concurrent, synchronized, timely, and efficient, and if so, how?

2. Should CEQ’s NEPA regulations be revised to make the NEPA process more efficient by better facilitating agency use of environmental studies, analysis, and decisions conducted in earlier Federal, State, tribal or local environmental reviews or authorization decisions, and if so, how?

3. Should CEQ’s NEPA regulations be revised to ensure optimal interagency coordination of environmental reviews and authorization decisions, and if so, how?

Scope of NEPA Review

4. Should the provisions in CEQ’s NEPA regulations that relate to the format and page length of NEPA documents and time limits for completion be revised, and if so, how?

5. Should CEQ’s NEPA regulations be revised to provide greater clarity to ensure NEPA documents better focus on significant issues that are relevant and useful to decisionmakers and the public, and if so, how?

6. Should the provisions in CEQ’s NEPA regulations relating to public involvement be revised to be more inclusive and efficient, and if so, how?

7. Should definitions of any key NEPA terms in CEQ’s NEPA regulations, such as those listed below, be revised, and if so, how?

Major Federal Action;

Effects;

Cumulative Impact;

Significantly;

Scope; and

Other NEPA terms

8. Should any new definitions of key NEPA terms, such as those noted below, be added, and if so, which terms?

Alternatives;

Purpose and Need;

Reasonably Foreseeable;

Trivial Violation; and

Other NEPA terms

9. Should the provisions in CEQ’s NEPA regulations relating to any of the types of documents listed below be revised, and if so, how?

Notice of Intent;

Categorical Exclusions Documentation;

Environmental Assessments;

Findings of No Significant Impact;

Environmental Impact Statements;

Records of Decision; and

Supplements

10. Should the provisions in CEQ’s NEPA regulations relating to the timing of agency action be revised, and if so, how?

11. Should the provisions in CEQ’s NEPA regulations relating to agency responsibility and the preparation of NEPA documents by contractors and project applicants be revised, and if so, how?

12. Should the provisions in CEQ’s NEPA regulations relating to programmatic NEPA documents and tiering be revised, and if so, how?

13. Should the provisions in CEQ’s NEPA regulations relating to the appropriate range of alternatives in NEPA reviews and which alternatives may be eliminated from detailed analysis be revised, and if so, how?

General

14. Are any provisions of the CEQ’s NEPA regulations currently obsolete? If so, please provide specific recommendations on whether they should be modified, rescinded, or replaced.

15. Which provisions of the CEQ’s NEPA regulations can be updated to reflect new technologies that can be used to make the process more efficient?

16. Are there additional ways CEQ’s NEPA regulations should be revised to promote coordination of environmental review and authorization decisions, such as combining NEPA analysis and other decision documents, and if so, how?

17. Are there additional ways CEQ’s NEPA regulations should be revised to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the implementation of NEPA, and if so, how?

18. Are there ways in which the role of tribal governments in the NEPA process should be clarified in CEQ’s NEPA regulations, and if so, how?

19. Are there additional ways CEQ’s NEPA regulations should be revised to ensure that agencies apply NEPA in a manner that reduces unnecessary burdens and delays as much as possible, and if so, how?

20. Are there additional ways CEQ’s NEPA regulations related to mitigation should be revised, and if so, how?

(italics added)

If you want NEPA regulations to be revised and would like to offer your ideas, please submit your comments, identified by docket identification (ID) number CEQ–2018–0001 through the Federal eRulemaking portal at https:// www.regulations.gov. Follow the online instructions for submitting comments.


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