The White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) recently announced several proposed changes to CEQ’s NEPA rules, which impose environmental review requirements on all federal agencies that carry out, authorize, permit, or fund actions with potential environmental impacts. The Biden Administration released a statement that this is part of their whole-of-government approach to tackling climate change and confronting environmental justice. AGC submitted comments on the November 22 deadline and also signed on to a coalition comment letter in response to the proposal.
The CEQ proposed rulemaking would update the following three NEPA rule requirements by essentially abandoning the previous Administration’s 2020 updates to these requirements (returning to the post-1978 status quo):
- Expanding Consideration of Alternatives - removing the focus on goals of the project applicant
- Agency NEPA Procedures – allowing agencies to impose more requirements in their agency-specific NEPA procedures than the requirements set forth in the CEQ rules
- Definition of Effects – requiring analysis of the direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of a project, removing the criterion of a close causal relationship as a prerequisite to requiring NEPA analysis
AGC does not support adoption of the proposed rule. However, in the likely event CEQ will go forward with the rule changes, AGC recommended modifications and clarifying statements that CEQ should adopt in any final rule. AGC pointed out that the review process under the current rules does require a thoughtful and thorough review of environmental issues related to a proposed Federal project or action. AGC remains concerned that the proposed rulemaking revisions would require more complex analyses, potentially not closely related to an actual project proposal.
On the other hand, AGC is pleased that the Administration has strongly supported the recently enacted bipartisan infrastructure bill, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Public Law No. 117-58; it includes provisions that would establish goals for the time period for completion of environmental impact statements and environmental assessments. It is meaningful that legislation supported by the President envisions environmental review that is prompt as well as thorough. However, if CEQ’s rule changes add complexity to the review process, they have considerable potential to extend the review process and delay increased investment in roads, bridges, and other infrastructure, and postpone the realization of the public benefits that increased infrastructure investments will bring.
For more information, please contact AGC’s Leah Pilconis at email@example.com.