On July 15, 2020, The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) announced its final rule which is titled Updated to the Regulations Implemented the Procedural of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
This is the first time in the past 40 years that NEPA has undergone a comprehensive modernization. Signed into law in 1970, NEPA was enacted to require Federal agencies to assess the potential environmental impacts of proposed major Federal actions. In 1978, the CEQ issued regulations for implementation into NEPA. Save for one substantive amendment, that is all the changes to the statue until now.
Over time, the lack of modernization and overhaul to the law has caused it to become burdensome, full of litigation, increased costs, and responsible for more delays than efficiencies. NEPA has become a drag on important projects for states, tribes, and local communities. Projects with minimal environmental impact that should have run inyo no difficulties have taken years to get through the paperwork process, making it impossible to plan, finance, and ultimately build these projects.
The reforms to NEPA focus on four key elements:
- Improves Management of the NEPA Process
- Establishes presumptive time limits of two years for the preparation of environmental impact statements (EISs) and one year for the preparation of environmental assessments (EAs).
- Specifies presumptive page limits for EISs and EAs.
- Requires joint schedules, a single EIS, and a single record of decision (ROD), where appropriate, for EISS involving multiple Federal agencies.
- Strengthens the role of the lead agency and requires senior agency officials to oversee NEPA compliance, including timely resolution of disputes to avoid delays.
- Allows applicants/contractors to assume a greater role in preparing EISs with appropriate disclosure of financial or other interests and with supervision and independent evaluation by the agency.
- Codifies Relevant Case Law and Provides New Efficiencies
- Includes new provisions to assist Federal agencies in determining whether NEPA applies and the appropriate level of environmental review.
- Requires agencies to consider environmental effects that are reasonably foreseeable and have a reasonably close causal relationship to the proposed action.
- Clarifies the definition of major Federal action and excludes activities with minimal Federal funding or involvement such as small business and farm loan guarantees.
- Directs agencies to analyze a reasonable range and number of technically and economically feasible alternatives.
- Provides efficiencies to comply with NEPA where procedures and documents required under other statutes satisfy the requirements of the CEQ regulations.
- Allows agencies to establish procedures to use other agencies’ categorical exclusions (CEs) and to adopt EAs and CE determinations, where appropriate.
- Expands Public Involvement and Improves Coordination with States, Tribes, and Localities
- Requires agencies to provide more information to and solicit input from the public earlier in the process to ensure and facilitate informed decision making by Federal agencies.
- Reduces duplication by facilitating use of documents prepared by State, Tribal, and local agencies to comply with NEPA.
- Enhances ability of Native Americans to participate in the NEPA process and ensures appropriate consultation with affected Tribal governments and agencies.
- Eliminates provisions in the prior regulations that limit Tribal interest to reservations.
- Promotes use of modern technologies for information sharing and public outreach.
- Ensures Meaningful and Effective Environmental Reviews
- Requires agencies to consider the affected environment, including reasonably foreseeable environmental trends and planned actions.
- Requires agencies to certify consideration of alternatives, information, and analyses submitted by State, Tribal, and local governments, and public commenters.
- Clarifies that mitigation must have a nexus to effects of the proposed action or alternatives.
- Does not alter any substantive environmental laws or regulations.
This NEPA reform is much appreciated by the Arizona Farm Bureau and all of the agricultural producers in the state of Arizona. The modernization of the statute is one step forward to less burdensome regulation. We look forward to many more regulatory reforms that create a more efficient environment for agriculture to prosper in this country, and appreciate the Trump Administration’s latest efforts to support farmers and ranchers across the nation.
 Executive Office of the President Council on Environmental Quality