National Environmental Policy Act regulations

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), under the Trump Administration’s directive, is considering updating its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. This notice is significant given the NEPA regulations have been in place since 1978 and have only undergone a handful of changes. The CEQ is currently entertaining a broad overhaul of these regulations on a scale not seen before. The CEQ extended the deadline for comments, which are due by August 20, 2018.

The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 is one our most significant environmental statutes. Congress passed it, declaring the underlying federal policy one where “man and nature can exist in productive harmony” and recognizing that “each person should enjoy a healthful environment and each person has a responsibility to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the environment.” 42 U.S.C. § 4331(a), (c). NEPA requires an agency to prepare a detailed statement on major federal actions that are anticipated to significantly affect the environment (now known as environmental impact statements). This is also the statute under which agencies such as the Forest Service have held public comment periods, enabling the public to participate in the agency’s decision-making process on projects that could have environmental impacts. Using public input, agencies are able to consider the possible environmental impacts of a proposed action before undertaking that action.

The National Environmental Policy Act also created the Council on Environmental Quality, which issued guidelines for following NEPA in the 1970s, and in 1978 promulgated NEPA regulations for every other federal agency to follow. These regulations set out standards for what an agency must consider in its environmental analysis and how the agency must engage the public during this analysis. Only a couple of these regulations have been revised since their promulgation, but the Trump Administration is proposing an overhaul of the implementing regulations, the effect of which will likely water down environmental analysis and limit public participation. Some of the problematic amendments that the Council on Environmental Quality is considering are as follows:

- Allowing an agency to use old environmental studies, analyses, and decisions conducted in earlier Federal, state, tribal, or local environmental reviews

- Revising the current definitions of what constitutes “major federal actions,” “effects,” “cumulative impacts,” “significantly,” and “scope,” which are already defined by the regulations

- Creating new definitions for the common words “alternatives,” “purpose and need,” “reasonably foreseeable,” for which there is already guiding legal precedent

- Creating a definition for a “trivial violation”

- Reconsidering how an agency should engage the public in the decision-making process

- Requiring time limits for completion of environmental reviews, regardless of project size or complexity (even though the Council had noted in the current regulations that universal time limits were too inflexible).

You can read what CEQ is considering here.

Friends of the Clearwater is preparing comments, and we hope you do the same. Please tell the CEQ, in your own words

- not to abridge public participation

- not to restrict a reasonable range of alternatives to the proposed action with a universal number

- to keep the agency’s obligation to respond to public comment

- to continue to require agencies to back up their conclusions for each alternative with the best available science and reasoned analysis specific to the potential environmental impacts for each project.

The CEQ extended the deadline for comments, which are due by August 20, 2018. Instructions for submitting comments are here. Keep the NEPA-implementing regulations strong!

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