The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued a proposed rule to modernize and clarify its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations, which were issued more than four decades ago. If finalized, the proposed rule would comprehensively update the 1978 regulations.
As one of the first environmental laws in this country, the NEPA was landmark legislation, signaling the dawning of environmental awareness and the first step down the path of enacting what has become a comprehensive and effective federal and state statutory framework to protect the environment.
However, since it was enacted, there have been more environmental lawsuits filed under NEPA than under any other environmental statute. Delays in reviews and decision-making have slowed energy and mineral projects in the U.S. and deterred future investment in those projects, according to the American Exploration and Mining Association (AEMA).
“Simply put, NEPA is broken. While a NEPA analysis has become ‘standard operating procedure’ for our members, it also has become increasingly more cumbersome, time consuming and expensive,” said AEMA Executive Director Mark Compton. “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 that reforming the process and creating a more efficient permitting system was critical to improving the mining industry’s competitiveness, job creation, and decreasing reliance on foreign sources.
CEQ’s proposed rule would establish a two-year time limit and improve agency coordination through development by the lead agency of a joint schedule; preparation of a single EIS and joint record of decision; and procedures to elevate and resolve disputes that could lead to delays. Additionally, CEQ has proposed provisions setting presumptive page limits, and for determining the appropriate level of NEPA review, ensuring timely submission of relevant information to inform decision-making, and facilitating the use of existing state, tribal, and local studies, analyses, and environmental documents, among other things.
AEMA said it will submit detailed comments on the proposed rule during the comment period.