National Environmental Policy Act Rulemaking to Revamp Environmental Project Reviews

January 21, 2020
Carol F. McCabe, Esq. and Zachary J. Koslap, Esq.
MGKF Special Alert - Federal Forecast 2020

In early January, the Trump administration and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) proposed new regulations related to the process and implementation of NEPA.  CEQ published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in 2018 soliciting public comment on suggested revisions of NEPA regulations “to update the regulations and ensure a more efficient, timely, and effective NEPA process.”  CEQ also asked for public comment on the potential revision of key NEPA terms involving the scope of NEPA, cumulative impacts of proposed projects subject to NEPA review, and major federal action.  The rulemaking proposed in early January of this year includes a number of revisions intended to streamline the process and implementation of NEPA on federal agency actions, including establishing page limits for environmental assessments (EAs) and environmental impact statements (EISs) (75 pages and 300 pages, respectively), and time limits for the completion of EAs and EISs (1 year and 2 years, respectively).  Additionally, the proposed rulemaking modifies the definition of “effects” by simplifying the definition and striking references to direct, indirect, and cumulative effects. The purpose of the revision is to focus NEPA reviews on effects that are reasonably foreseeable and have a reasonably close causal relationship to the proposed action or alternative.  CEQ states explicitly in its rulemaking that an analysis of cumulative effects is not required under NEPA.  Ultimately, the proposed rulemaking effectively narrows the range of projects subject to review under NEPA and no longer considers the cumulative impact that proposed projects will have on climate change.  Such revisions will ease the review of major energy infrastructure projects such as natural gas pipelines that require federal approvals subject to NEPA review.