by Paul Ciampoli
APPA News Director
Posted January 10, 2020

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) on Jan. 9 announced a notice of proposed rulemaking intended to update what it said are outdated regulations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

NEPA was enacted into law in 1970 and amended in 1986. Most of the regulations implementing NEPA have not be substantially updated in 40 years.

The NEPA process can impact a wide variety of projects including the construction of roads, bridges, highways, and airports to water infrastructure, conventional and renewable energy projects, and land, forest, and fishery management activities.

The CEQ has found that the average length of an environmental impact statement is over 600 pages, and that the average time for federal agencies to complete such NEPA reviews is four and a half years.

In 2017, President Trump issued an executive order for the federal government to have a two-year goal for completing environmental reviews for infrastructure projects and for CEQ to review and modernize its regulations.

The CEQ in its Jan. 9 announcement said that the NPRM will address concerns with time of reviews and the challenges that many analyses of projects face in the courts.

Among other things, the proposed rule would modernize, simplify, and accelerate the NEPA process. Specifically, it would establish time limits of two years for completion of environmental impact statements and one-year completion for environmental assessments, require joint schedules or a single record of decisions where an EIS involves multiple agencies and promote use of modern technology for information sharing and public outreach.

The CEQ said that the proposed rule would also clarify terms, application, and scope of the NEPA review, enhance coordination with states, tribes, and localities and reduce unnecessary burdens and delays.

The CEQ is seeking public comment on the NPRM. The deadline for comments is March 10, 2020.

CEQ will host two public hearings on the proposed rule -- in Denver, Colo., on February 11, 2020 and in Washington, DC, on February 25, 2020.

The proposed rule was scheduled to be published in the Federal Register on January 10 for public comment and a pre-publication version is available here.

In 2018, the American Public Power Association provided comments on CEQ's advanced notice of proposed rulemaking to streamline NEPA.