UPDATED: The Executive Office of the President Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today announced a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) titled “Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act.”

The NPRM will appear in the Federal Register on Friday, January 10, for public comment. A pre-publication version is available here.

"For the first time in over 40 years, CEQ is proposing to modernize its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations," the CEQ fact sheet reads. "The outdated regulations have slowed and impeded the development of needed infrastructure in communities across the nation. Environmental impact statements (EISs) for Federal highway projects have averaged over seven years to complete and many reviews have taken a decade or more. 

"CEQ’s proposed rule would modernize and clarify the CEQ regulations to facilitate more efficient, effective, and timely NEPA reviews by simplifying and clarifying regulatory requirements, incorporating key elements of the One Federal Decision policy, codifying certain case law and CEQ guidance, updating the regulations to reflect current technologies and agency practices, eliminating obsolete provisions, and improving the format and readability of the regulations. The proposed rule seeks to reduce unnecessary paperwork and delays, and to promote better decision-making consistent with NEPA’s statutory requirements."

Idaho Governor Brad Little issued the following statement this morning regarding President Donald Trump’s announcement:

“I am a strong advocate of healthy lands and waters, and I support President Trump's plans to update the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The complexity of NEPA has created land management barriers and a burdensome backlog of needed projects in Idaho. Proposed improvements to the law would uphold essential environmental safeguards and public participation while saving taxpayer dollars by reducing the time and cost of NEPA compliance for routine agency projects. The result will be more efficient highway and construction projects, reduced fire risk, and jobs from increased on-the-ground activities that improve the health of our lands. We cannot delay any longer in modernizing NEPA.”

U.S. Representative Russ Fulcher also lauds the proposed update.

“These improvements to the National Environmental Policy Act are critical to the prosperity of our rural communities. NEPA regulations often provide unnecessary and lengthy delays in the permitting process that add costs and disrupt projects in Idaho," he said. "Improving and shortening the NEPA process will decrease wildfire risk, widen highways in Idaho, and bring jobs to communities near federal land without sacrificing the environment. I applaud President Trump and his team for taking this step and I look forward to the final rule.”

"The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), signed into law in 1970, is a procedural statute that requires Federal agencies to assess the environmental impacts of proposed major Federal actions," the CEQ fact sheet continues. "The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) issued regulations for Federal agencies to implement NEPA in 1978. CEQ has not comprehensively updated these regulations in over 40 years, and has made only one limited substantive amendment in 1986.

"In 2017, President Trump issued Executive Order 13807 establishing a One Federal Decision policy, including a two-year goal for completing environmental reviews for major infrastructure projects, and directing CEQ to consider revisions to modernize its regulations. In 2018, CEQ issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) requesting comment on potential updates to its regulations. CEQ received over 12,500 comments, which informed CEQ’s proposed rule.

"CEQ has found that the average length of an EIS is over 600 pages, and that the average time for Federal agencies to conduct these NEPA reviews is four and a half years. However, reviews for some projects have taken much longer. NEPA analyses are frequently challenged in the courts, and while Federal agencies ultimately prevail in many cases, litigation can unnecessarily delay and increase costs for important projects such as needed transportation, water and other infrastructure that benefit States, Tribes, and local communities. The increased costs and complexity of NEPA reviews and litigation make it very challenging for large and small businesses to plan, finance, and build projects in the United States."

CEQ requests public comment on the NPRM. Comments should be submitted on or before March 10.

Comments for Docket ID No. CEQ-2019-0003 can be submitted online at https://www.regulations.gov, by fax to (202) 456-6546 or by mail to Council on Environmental Quality, 730 Jackson Place NW, Washington, DC 20503.

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