On July 16, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced its final rule to comprehensively update and modernize its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations for the first time in more than 40 years. The announcement comes after a multiyear review of its NEPA regulations, and after receiving more than 1.1 million public comments from a broad range of stakeholders on a variety of issues relating to the regulations, as well as hosting public hearings and conducting other public outreach.
“Through the rulemaking process, we heard from a variety of individuals, organizations, and job creators that the more than 40-year-old regulations were overly complex, led to unnecessary litigation, and delayed important infrastructure and other projects,” CEQ Chairwoman Mary B. Neumayr said. “The final rule will make the NEPA process more efficient and effective, ensure consideration of environmental impacts of major projects and activities, and result in more timely decisions that support the development of modern, resilient infrastructure.”
Currently, the average length of an environmental impact statement is more than 600 pages, and the average time for federal agencies to complete such NEPA reviews is 4.5 years. NEPA is also the most litigated area of environmental law. Delays due to lengthy reviews and lawsuits increase costs for project applicants, states, tribes, localities and taxpayers, according to the CEQ.
CEQ’s final rule will modernize the NEPA regulations to facilitate more efficient, effective, and timely environmental reviews by simplifying and clarifying regulatory requirements, including a two-year goal for completing environmental reviews. The final rule codifies Supreme Court and other case law, updates the regulations to reflect current technologies and agency practices, eliminates obsolete provisions, and improves the format and readability of the regulations.
The rule also exempts certain loan guarantee programs from the NEPA process, which will reduce unnecessary burdens on small businesses and family farms. Additionally, the rule will expand public participation and the involvement of tribal governments in the NEPA process. The modernized NEPA regulations will accelerate the environmental review and permitting process for development of modern, resilient infrastructure, management of our federal lands and waters, and restoration of the environment.
“NEPA reviews have become very costly and time-consuming, threatening the construction of important infrastructure projects and job creation across this country,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said. “There is a direct link between a wealthier economy and a cleaner environment. EPA is confident this regulation can help both the U.S. economy grow faster and safeguard its environment for future generations.”
“While a NEPA analysis has become ‘standard operating procedure’ for our members, it also has become increasingly more cumbersome, time consuming and expensive,” American Exploration and Mining Association (AEMA) Executive Director Mark Compton said. “NEPA is no longer the planning and decision-making tool it was designed to be. Instead, it has become the tool used by obstructionist groups who oppose responsible and lawful mineral development on federal public lands.”
He added, “The final rule announced today is a positive step toward a more effective permitting system while maintaining important environmental safeguards and ensuring meaningful public involvement and participation in the NEPA process.”