Council on Environmental Quality Releases Updated Final NEPA RuleWed, 15 Jul 2020 17:07:47 CDT
On July 15, 2020, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced its final rule titled “Update to the Regulations Implementing the Procedural Provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act.”
For the first time in over 40 years, CEQ has comprehensively updated its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations to modernize the Federal environmental review process, which will benefit the environment, economy, and every American. The regulations, which apply to all Federal agencies, have been complex and unnecessarily difficult to understand and navigate. The result has been excessive paperwork, litigation, and delays. Environmental impact statements (EISs) for Federal highway projects have averaged over seven years to complete and some reviews have taken a decade or more. The modernized regulations will promote more efficient, effective, and timely environmental reviews by all Federal agencies.
CEQ’s final rule will modernize the NEPA regulations by simplifying and clarifying the requirements, and incorporating key elements of President Trump’s One Federal Decision policy. 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 processes for development of modern, resilient infrastructure, management of our Federal lands and waters, and restoration of our environment.
NEPA, signed into law in 1970, is a procedural statute that requires Federal agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of proposed major Federal actions. 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.
Since NEPA’s enactment, implementation has been complex and time consuming for Federal agencies and Americans seeking permits or approvals from the Federal government. The complexity of the regulations has given rise to CEQ’s issuance of more than 30 guidance documents to assist Federal agencies in understanding and complying with NEPA. Additionally, Presidents on a bipartisan basis have issued directives, and Congress has enacted legislation to reduce delays and expedite the implementation of NEPA and the CEQ regulations, including for transportation, water, and other types of infrastructure projects.
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