In a rule proposal published in the Federal Register on January 10, 2020, the Trump administration is proposing the first significant regulatory changes to the 50-year old National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) since the implementing regulations were promulgated by the Council on Environmental Quality (“CEQ”) in 1978. Several provisions appear to be in direct contravention to the statute. The proposed rules will allow approval of major infrastructure and other energy and pipeline projects without the same level of detailed environmental review required under the current rules. Fewer projects would require review of their potential impact to land, water, air or wildlife under the proposed rules, as the proposed rules would create a new category of projects as “non-major” federal actions.
Additionally, in what has already been deemed to be an effort to avoid consideration of a project’s potential impact to climate change, the proposal includes provisions that would only require analysis of environmental impacts that are “reasonably foreseeable” and have a “reasonably close causal relationship” to the project. Nor would a project’s cumulative environmental effects have to be considered.
The proposal would set a presumptive two-year time limit for environmental impact statements, and a one-year limit for the less rigorous environmental assessments under NEPA, which would be considerably shorter than the average duration of review under the current system.
Public comments on the proposal must be received by the CEQ by March 10, 2020. The CEQ will almost certainly receive thousands of comments, both strongly in support and stringently objecting, so, stay tuned….
The proposal can be found here.