NEPA Reform Proposed by CEQ

NEPA Reform Proposed by CEQ

The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) is considering updating its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing regulations and has issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to modernize and clarify the regulations to facilitate a more efficient, effective, and timely NEPA review process.

NEPA, signed into law in 1970, applies to a broad range of Federal actions, including federally-funded construction projects, plans to manage and develop Federal Lands, and Federal authorizations of non-Federal activities such as licenses and permits.

CEQ's proposed rule would incorporate elements of the One Federal Decision policy (Executive Order 13807, 2017), codify certain case law and CEQ guidance, revise the regulations to reflect current technologies and agency practices, eliminate obsolete provisions, and improve the format and readability of the regulations.

A key element of the proposed rule would require joint schedules, a single environmental impact statement (EIS), and a single record of decision (ROD), where appropriate, for EISs involving multiple agencies.

Several of the proposed changes are designed to facilitate more efficient, effective, and timely NEPA reviews. For example, the proposed rules would require all environmental impact statement (EIS) reviews take less than two years to complete and set page limits on reviews. Environmental Assessments (EAs) would be required to be completed within one year.

More significantly, the proposed rules are designed to better define the scope of a NEPA review. CEQ proposes to simplify the definition of environmental effects and clarify that effects must be reasonably foreseeable and have a reasonably close causal relationship to the proposed actions. Also, analysis of cumulative effects is not required under NEPA. Environmental organizations providing an early response to the proposed rules believe that the language will eliminate consideration of greenhouse gasses GHG) and climate impacts in environmental reviews.

The proposed rules would raise the bar for when NEPA reviews are necessary, excluding NEPA review for non-discretionary decisions and non-Federal projects. The proposed rules would facilitate use of categorical exclusions and environmental assessments (rather than EIS).

The proposed rules also intend to enhance coordination with States, Tribes, and Localities by reducing duplication of documents required while ensuring appropriate consultation.

CEQ requests public comment on the NPRM (Docket ID No. CEQ-2019-0003). Comments should be submitted on or before March 10, 2020. Comments can be submitted online ( , by fax, or by mail (Council on Environmental Quality, 730 Jackson Place NW, Washington, DC 20503). Two public hearings will be held on February 11 in Denver, CO, and on February 25 in Washington, DC.

January 15, 2020